My Day at the Circuit of the Americas Race Track

After several years of hearing about "Circuit of the Americas," COTA, the new world-class race track east of Austin, finally I got the opportunity to see and experience it. The event was perfect: the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) national championships! Two of my high school classmates back in Princeton, West Virginia now live in Texas: one is a retired professor at Texas A&M, the other a retired financial executive near Houston. The Houston friend is a "car guy," and has an old Pontiac Fiero in his garage, a car that he has taken apart and which he is "getting ready to get ready to get back into SCCA racing shape" for lots of years. Clearly, his wife is a patient soul for sure. At any rate, "Mr. Fiero" called and said he and "the professor" were coming over for the SVRA and hoped that I would join them.

Wow. I had been hearing from everyone I know here town that the COTA track was a man-made marvel and it was worth a trip to check it out, even without a racing event. So I immediately agreed.

The track is a bit tricky to find. They usually don't build race tracks next to population centers of course. I had seen it from the air, since it's only several miles from Austin's major airport. Also, I checked out the site on Google. But the primary connector road is not convenient from my side of town. Most of the other access points are on small, farm roads. So I did what I usually do ... I drove out to the airport and turned off on a side road heading in the general direction of where COTA is located. On the first or second little rise in the land, I spotted the control tower at COTA, a structure that's well over a hundred feet high. Based on that modern technique, I kept turning onto back roads and gradually got closer until the tower was in constant sight. Eventually I came to one of the entrances, a rear one as it turned out. But, it was an entrance, and the road wrapped around the track enclosure until I came to the front section and a huge parking lot. I was early, a bit after 8 a.m, and only a few cars (perhaps 35-40) were parked at that time, but it clearly was the correct entrance.

The full track was designed and constructed by a famous German architectural engineering firm that specializes in Formula 1 racing installations. The full track is 3.43 miles long and has 20 turns, ranging from a 90-degree right angle immediately after a straight-stretch where speeds reach 200 MPH, to nearly 180-degree turns that bend back on themselves, to "esses" where the cars go left then right, then left, etc. The entire facility is on 1,500 acres on gently rolling hills.

The main front straight-away lies between two large grandstands. In this photo, you can see the layout, along with a car (a vintage 356 Porsche) coming down the pit road.

The next photo shows the famous Turn 1, which is at the end of the main/grandstand straightaway, and which rises up to an elevation of 100 feet, at which is bends back on itself in the "hair-pin" and goes back down the 100 feet into a right hand turn. Apparently this is unique in F1 racing, and the drivers love it.

The shot that follows was taken in the "paddock" area, where the cars line up for races. It also includes mechanic garages. In this vintage sportscar series, the paddock was a cool place to visit as the cars getting staged for next race assembled there, and also the cars coming back from completing the prior race came back to this area and rejoined their garage or mechanic's area. People milled around and it was completely open to the public.


One of the most interesting things I saw in the paddock area was an old F1 car that was racing that day in one of the heats. It's a (from my memory) 1995 Ferrari, a V-12. You can see that each of the six cylinders on both sides of the motor had twin spark plugs, so there are twelve spark plug wires coming out to the dual coils on both sides of the motor.

Our day lasted from 8:30 until 4:30, and all three of us were exhausted from walking all around the circuit, watching the races from every possible vantage point, and then checking out the garages and paddocks. What a day!

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