I have been fortunate enough to spend the last year or so going to various race tracks, more than I ever had in my life, some to spectate and some to race or crew for others. When my endurance race team found out that there was going to be a race at Circuit of the Americas we spoke about participating as a team. Since this World Racing League event would take place over Valentine’s Day weekend, many of our five team members decided they wanted to stay married. A couple of weeks after that discussion, I was talking to Erik from the team, who said he was talking to another team about renting a seat in their car. They struck a deal that was mutually beneficial as Team Endurance didn’t have time to drive their car to the track and Erik had the time transport the car and wanted to participate but didn’t have a a team. Erik asked if I was interested in coming along to help tow the car for the 2400 mile round trip. Of course, if you haven’t guessed yet, I am always up for a road trip and would get to hang out at Circuit of the Americas, the only Formula one race circuit in the United States.
Team Endurance consists of Matt, Dan, Nick and Mike, who we had met at other races over the last couple of years, but we didn’t really “know” them. We arranged to bring their 1989 BMW 325 to Erik’s for pre-race prep as it would also be our departure point. Erik and the team spent a couple weekends getting the car ready for a “bucket list” race. When you are racing that far away from home and you need to pack as light as possible, you want to ensure the car is in tip top shape.
With everything loaded, we hit the road early on Thursday morning to get the bigger chunk of the trip behind us. The route was pretty basic, get on interstate 35 and go south, then find a hotel once we hit Texas. We rolled in to Waco, TX for the night on fumes. In fact, we ran out of gas just past our hotel about a mile from the gas station, so an Uber ride later, we were back up and running. After a quick night’s rest we hit the road for the last little leg of the trip.
Circuit of The Americas is an amazing facility that opened in 2012 for the US Grand Prix and is the newest track I have seen. Included in the entry fee was a spot in the garages, which all formula circuits have, even though most tracks around the world don’t have them. They have the all the supporting utilities necessary to run a Grand Prix. Being in the same garage that Hamilton or Vettel might have used is something else for a race fan. After final car prep was completed on Friday afternoon, I set off to walk the 3.4 mile long F1 circuit and take pictures of the course. Even though I had watched races and driven around it via iRacing, it was impressive to see how big the signature hill leading into turn 1 actually is. Having feet on the track really gave me an appreciation for how technical the course is and how difficult the elevation changes are to pick up on TV or in games. Once the sun goes down, the track lights come on including the patriotically themed lights on the 251 foot tall Tower. It looked amazing. The drivers meeting took place at the winner’s circle and Joey Todd, the organizer and the head of World Racing League, spoke from up top where anyone who has podium-ed at the track stood.
The race consisted of two eight hour races, one Saturday and one Sunday. We hit the track on day one and before the race started we all got a chance to drive the track on a parade lap. I was fortunate enough to drive our tow vehicle for this and while it wasn’t at speed, I did push the ¾ ton truck around the course. The cars hit the track for a couple of pace laps before the race started and as the cars approached the starting line and the green flag started to wave, the noise from all lead cars was deafening down the front straight. The red and caution flags came out slowing the race down for various mechanical failures which limited the amount of time each driver spent in the car but Team Endurance’s BMW ran without issue for the race and finished 7th in class and 20th overall. After the checkered flag dropped on Saturday we got the car prepped for day two and we all headed to our hotels for some much needed sleep.
On day two the green flag dropped an hour earlier and the racing was fierce now that everyone was more comfortable with this technical track. The morning was fairly uneventful but once the afternoon hit the long weekend began to take the toll on multiple cars, including some of course excursions and several mechanical failures which brought out the caution flags. The teams BMW started to have an issue or two which were able to be fix fairly quickly in the pits. The fun and hard part of endurance racing is being able to resolve the random issues that arise during a race. The car was able to finish the race and then broke after the checkered flag causing the car to be towed in once more.
We spent sometime packing up the trailer while the guys talked about their driver stints and we started the what turned out to be a nice quiet, uneventful drive home. We drove until midnight before finding a hotel and got up probably too early the next morning to make the final leg of our trip home.
I was asked a couple of times during the race while down at the track from a couple of the other folks from Minnesota “why aren’t you racing”. Well there were a couple of reason, for one I didn’t really see a seat available, the cost involved for me may have meant I would have missed a race with my team later in the season and cheating on the bomber on Valentine’s day weekend just wouldn’t be right. I would rather take our car to Circuit of the Americas then drive a car that I am not familiar with.
I was updating the Heritage Facebook and Instagram along with my personal social media and my friend and fellow racer Ann said it best “One thing I love about road racing is that amateurs can compete in the same venues as the best drivers in the world. No one will ever let me play ball in Yankee Stadium, but I could race at COTA!”