SPY: Big in Texas

Howdy y’all, this is Spy here, signing in from the Circuit of the Americas. Like the Mall of the Americas but with more retail outlets. The US Grand Prix doth beckon like the high-kicking, baton-twirling, tambourine-shaking behemoth it most surely is.

The US Grand Prix is a big one. In Spy’s recollection, it’s always been a big one. Massive crowds at Indy, now massive crowds at COTA – but with more cowboy boots. There’s something of a double-standard inherent in that. The US Formula One fan base is a loyal and knowledgeable group. If only 0.5% of the US population has heard of the US Grand Prix, that’s still more people than there are in Holland – and you know how many of them show up to races. Hence this weekend we can expect a great atmosphere, a lot of yelling and some really big hats.

We’re calling this the US Grand Prix but really it’s the Grand Prix of Texas. At least that’s the impression you get in and around the circuit, where there’s really no room for doubting which state we’re in this week. Texan flags, Texan trucks, Lone Star Beer, Texas BBQ, the list goes on. And yes, everything really is bigger in Texas. Except, curiously, the pit building at COTA which, by modern standards, is tiny.

This makes the garages downright cosy, which is a bit of a problem if you’re trying to change a floor or fit a new gearbox. Not ‘problem’ in the Monaco sense of compact and bijou, but it can certainly make you pine for the wide-open spaces of Barcelona. Teams still like coming to COTA though. It’s a well-ran circuit, which makes all the difference – because not all circuits are created equal. Some weekends it’s a real struggle to get anything done because you’re constantly fighting the facilities. Spy’s probably supposed to say something about F1 loving COTA for the warm welcome and vast amounts of barbecued meat. The reality is that we love it because the toilets all flush and the fuses don’t blow every time someone plugs in a kettle.

Not that we’re against the whole BBQ thing. The way to a bolties heart is most definitely through a table heaped high with salty meat and where chilli sauce is classed as the vegetable side dish.

It’s at this point Spy’s supposed to say something about Austin being the live music capital of the world. Like everyone else working in the paddock, Spy can neither confirm nor deny. It’s a lovely idea to think that, after work, everyone goes downtown to catch a show but the reality of it is that everyone works late and starts early and the musical act tends to be provided courtesy of headphones on the minibus back to the hotel, frequently accompanied by snoring.

This year the blurb says the race is twinned with something called Austin City Limits. Spy’s reliably informed this is some sort of live music TV show and it’s taking place the weekend before the race, and doubtless they’ll be a live act or two at the track. Spy’s desperately hoping it isn’t Taylor Swift again. Nothing against Ms Swift but it was downright annoying to have a sell-out crowd but half-empty grandstands for qualifying because people weren’t coming to the circuit until those horrible, noisy cars had stopped running around the concert venue. You never have that problem when its Aerosmith.

The first year we came to COTA everyone was surprised that we had to share top-billing with a college (American) football game. This got everyone’s back up but you have to make special allowances in the US for things not being quite as they are elsewhere. Back in 1984 when Texas first hosted a grand prix, the race in Dallas was the second most popular sport in the city over the weekend – and with a better circuit layout it could have been every bit as popular as the ostrich racing.