COTA boss Bobby Epstein says race site is “comfortable in his own skin”
- The Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas is back at full speed after a tough year due to COVID-19.
- Circuit boss Bobby Epstein is confident the facility will be able to retain Formula 1, whose contract is pending with the facility after 2021.
- While the IndyCar won’t return to COTA in 2021, the return of NASCAR, MotoGP and an impressive concert schedule will put people through the turnstiles.
Bobby Epstein was on the phone, looking out his office window. “I watch the Moto GP trucks load,” he said.
It’s been a good year, and there are three big events, including the motorcycle racing, to come. The president of the Circuit of the Americas, the Austin, TX road course, was involved in all aspects of the construction and management of the facility. Last year, well, COVID-19 made its job difficult.
“Having run, after a year of doing nothing, was great,” said Epstein. The 2020 season “has been difficult for many reasons. You are in the event industry, and there are no events, it’s difficult. This year is all the sweeter because of the gravity of last year. I think people here are enjoying this year even more.
This weekend, Moto GP, the best international motorcycle road racing series, takes part in the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas, marking the first time the series has left Europe all season. Later this month, it’s the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix, in the only F1 race in the United States. This year, anyway. More on that in a moment.
The F1 race is sold out.
“I think we could have continued to sell tickets if we had had space,” Epstein said. “Even so, I think it will be the biggest event on the planet this year because the Olympics couldn’t have fans. I think we are well over 350,000 for the weekend,” said Epstein Automatic week.
The staff required is enormous; Epstein added more than 1,000 employees to the F1 race. And he expects a full house, even though COVID is still a problem. The track also hosts musical performances, and “We were seeing huge no-show rates for concerts and events just six weeks ago – no-show rates of 30 or 40 percent,” he said. -he declares. “The last two shows, we’ve seen less than five percent.”
It’s hard to believe, but the next Formula 1 race is the last of the track’s 10-year contract with F1. How are the negotiations going? “I have a nondisclosure so I can’t really say too much, but I’m pretty optimistic we’ll get there.”
Epstein has reason to be optimistic – word is within F1 that the COTA renewal is a given. Like most F1 events in the United States over the years, COTA had massive crowds for the first few years and then the crowds started to decline. COTA held on long enough for the race to become an American institution, and in the recent past the public has returned.
It doesn’t hurt that Epstein learned how to book big gigs as part of the F1 weekend. This year, it’s Billy Joel and Twenty One Pilots. Later that year he has the Rolling Stones.
“Music is important,” Epstein said. “We don’t want the room to sit still. We have lots of parking spaces, concession stands, and washrooms, and we don’t want them to be underutilized. As great as the track is for fans and pilots, we believe that the amphitheater we have built is ideal for musicians and music fans, especially from an acoustic point of view. We’re just taking advantage of what we have here.
NASCAR will also return March 25-27. A series not at COTA: IndyCar, not since Colton Herta won his first race there in 2019. It’s OK with Epstein. “I think we’re comfortable with the number of big racing events we’ve given on the calendar in general, we have the Moto GP coming back in the spring, and we have NASCAR coming back in March… I think that those major events in the spring should be pretty good. We think we’d dilute ticket sales across the board if we had all three. “
Next year, Formula 1 will race for the first time in Miami, a three-day event May 6-8 in Miami Gardens, around Hard Rock Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins football team, and rumored to be wants Las Vegas to be in the mix for 2023 or 2024. Many thought the Miami race would be right before or after COTA in the fall, requiring equipment to make only one trip to and from the United States instead of two.
Epstein is very happy it’s spring. “I think where it’s on the calendar it’s a nice bookend for us. The two events are so different that I think we are going to be complementary. I’m happy with the date. I think we will offer even more F1 to the fans.
“And I think we’re pretty comfortable in our skin at this point. I can’t believe how quickly time has gone by, but we have developed a tradition and a history. Ten years ago we had our first race, and we’ve seen fans come back year after year and camp in the same place in the campgrounds, and we’ve seen the campgrounds grow with new people coming, and I don’t I don’t think this atmosphere will change.
One of the perks of being over 10 is becoming a big part of the Austin community.
“We made a huge effort, and I think it started with the Mother’s Day food drive – it was a real race on the track – and we collected enough for 2 million meals for the community. It was shortly after the COVID hit, ”he said. “And we had two major storms in the Gulf, and we became an evacuation center for people to find shelter.”
COTA has also been a site to obtain the coronavirus vaccine.
“We did 15,000 vaccinations per month,” Eptein said. “We try to be good stewards and partners for the community.”
Speaking of the community, Epstein has ambitious plans for the trail and for the rest of the adjacent land they own.
“We finally got approval shortly before COVID hit to expand the campus, and that has been a goal for a long time. We have 1,300 acres, and a lot of it is across the road from the tracks. We’re trying to become an entertainment destination, and that includes things related to the automobile and racing like car condos, and a technology and industrial park. We will be offering trackside land for people to build their own private garage and trackside house if they wish, as well as a new driving club.
“These are all trail related things, and across the street we are planning an amusement park and a water park. We have ambitious plans, but we have the wind in our sails, I think. “
It was a tough road, with financial challenges, lawsuits, pavement problems, major flooding. Are there things he would have done differently? Epstein paused, then burst out laughing. “It’s a long thought process, longer than what we have now. I think the path would have brought us to the same place, but I think this path would have been a little less painful.
“At the end of the day, we end up where we wanted to be. And it’s to have a lasting and positive impact on the city, and to give people memories of racing and music that will last a long time. This has been my goal from the start.
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