Talks with Bernie Ecclestone about holding a grand prix in Austin go back more than a decade, the head of the group charged with bringing a race back to the U.S. tells the local Austin newspaper.
It’s among a package of information that, while it doesn’t exactly answer all our questions, does acknowledge these folks know there are plenty of hurdles they have to cross.
Here’s the VIF — very important facts — from the Austin American-Statesman article:
The announcement stunned many in the Texas auto racing community and surprised and delighted some political leaders, but it left others wondering about significant details â€” including where a track would be built, who would build it, how much it would cost, who would pay for it and why would an Austin project succeed where others haven’t?
Local race car driver Tavo Hellmund is managing partner of Full Throttle Productions, which will partner with Ecclestone’s company for the Grand Prix project.
“I got 18,000 e-mails in three minutes,” Hellmund said as he was rushing to a plane. Hellmund said that neither city nor state money would be used to build a track. He declined to reveal his investment group, but said he had talked with Ecclestone as early as 1999 about a Grand Prix event for Austin and began serious discussion four years ago.
“Austin is more of an F1 crowd than a NASCAR crowd,” Hellmund said. “The geography, the tech money, the nightlife, the music. It all just fits with what Formula One is all about.”
He said that the bidding process alone cost more than $1 million. Hellmund said land has not yet been purchased, but that three sites are being considered.
“This will be a game-changer for Austin. … We expect every hotel from San Antonio to Temple will be full,” Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell said. “This will solidify our standing as an international city. … Hundreds of millions of people also see the broadcast, and those who don’t know about Austin will.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry also was enthusiastic and commended Comptroller Susan Combs for her help in attracting the race.
A state tax-incentive program â€” known as the Texas Major Events Trust Fund â€” is intended to reimburse cities for the costs they bear by hosting profitable events, such as a Formula One race or the Super Bowl, which will be held in Arlington in 2011. The host city, county or organizing committee applies for the money. Senate Bill 1515, authored by Watson, specifically added Breeders Cup and F1 races as eligible events.
“I can tell you this facility cost about $250 million,” Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage said of his NASCAR track. “(An F1 track) would exceed that.”
Texas Motor Speedway opened in 1996 and has a capacity of more than 191,000.
Hellmund said the track would be at least three miles long. Dollahite estimated that it would take 600-1,000 acres for the track and grandstands.
Manor developer Pete Dwyer said he met with Hellmund in the fall of 2008 after Hellmund expressed interest in a 600-acre tract along the Texas 130 toll road near U.S. 290.
Hellmund put together a track layout that Dwyer called a “pretty impressive master plan” and mentioned that he would show it to Ecclestone, Dwyer said.
But the project never materialized after some financial incentives from the state didn’t come through, Dwyer said.
I’m sure you all are with me in catching that Hellmund says no state or city money will be used — which is what help up things up a few years ago. And if there isn’t going to be city money used, why this trust fund? So, still, we don’t know where the money will come from. Maybe there’s county money, which Hellmund doesn’t mention but is covered by the bill? I’m trying to pierce through his language and see what he’s left open.
It also sounds like our thoughts about some of the nearby tracks are on the wrong …. er… track. Although Hellmund could buy land with track already existing, but I’m not sure that would move things along any more quickly.
Still basically a lot of questions left.