Tuesday, November 20, 2012

F1 Weekend Update

So, this weekend was Formula 1 weekend here in Austin.  For those who don't live in Austin or who haven't been reading the news, for a few years now developers have been building a giant track (impressively named the Circuit of the Americas) for Formula 1 racing in Elroy, a small community just to the southeast of Austin.
If you're like most Austinites, you probably don't know much about car racing in general, and even less about Formula 1.  Apparently it involves really expensive cars going super fast around a curvy track, though, and Austinites have been assured that it has a very large audience in the U.S., and an even larger audience in Europe, Latin America, and the rest of the world.
Austinites, residents of a city which regularly hosts large events ranging from South by Southwest to the Austin City Limits Festival to the Republic of Texas Biker Rally, were assured that they had never seen anything like the sorts of horde-like crowds that were about to descend upon their city for F1.  Downtown offices were closed on Friday in anticipation of traffic congestion (Amy was allowed to work from home and our office shut down early), and helicopter companies set up shop in order to ferry the wealthy to and from the track above the congested throng of fans who were predicted to hopelessly clog the roads between downtown and Elroy.
Race organizers had forecast as many as 300,000 visitors to Austin during F1 weekend.  In a city that has a population of less than a million, an influx of 300,000 sounded pretty daunting.
But upon closer inspection, I'm not sure where the promoters came up with that figure.  The race event itself ultimately had a little less than 118,000 fans in attendance on its biggest day.  That's definitely a lot of people, but keep in mind that home games for the Texas Longhorns at Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium regularly hold well over 100,000 people (capacity is about 111,000), and Austin holds those events without much of a second thought at least half a dozen times every fall.  South by Southwest also hosts well over 100,000 people, and we've been doing that for over a quarter of a century. 
Anyway, the F1 event does take place over three days, so I guess that, theoretically, if the track were filled to capacity with a different set of fans each day, the numbers might total more than 300,000.  Realistically, though, I think you're always going to have the majority of people attending on more than one day if they're taking the time to travel to Austin for the race (especially when a lot of the tickets are sold in three day packages).
(some kind of crazy metal dragon
threatens to consume the F1 fans)
The more important point is that the talk of crowds and congestion and inconvenience scared off a lot of local residents who might have otherwise at least ventured into downtown to see the music at Fanfest or to have taken part in the revelry in the bars and restaurants.  Instead, I think a lot of local businesses had an average to slow weekend in terms of business and sales.  I rode my bicycle downtown on both Friday and Saturday, and I'm here to report that, at least during the day, the city seemed sleepier than usual.  Friday night Amy and I went down to South Congress for pizza, and Homeslice was no busier than usual- maybe even a little quieter.

(the crowds at Fan Fest)
All in all, I think that the crowds and problems that were expected to be caused by F1 were overblown.  I'm guessing that race weekends will continue to get busier and more congested in the future, particularly if visitors had a good time and if positive reviews of the event continue to spread.   But this weekend was pretty nice.  We had beautiful weather, light crowds, and the people that I ran into seemed to be enjoying themselves and were very friendly (I even got asked to be in a picture with a random large, extended Mexican family who wanted a photo with the "Big Texan!").

("F1 traffic?  What F1 traffic?")
The events downtown seemed busy during the day, but not packed.  If I hadn't gone down to specifically see the race events and the music stages set up along the Congress area, I'm not sure I would have even known it was an F1 weekend.  (although I guess the regular helicopter flights over my house might have provided some clue).
Anyway, in the end, I think one of the biggest hiccups with F1 weekend came from scaring all of the locals away with talk of traffic snarls and horrible crowds.  It sounds like the race weekend went smoothly, but it might have been a little more festive if the locals hadn't been scared away.

In more personal news, Amy and I had a nice weekend.  I went for several long bike rides, we took some shopping trips, and Amy did some watercolor painting with a friend from work.  We played guitar and ukulele together, did some raking and other chores, and did some reading.  Band practice was cancelled because some things came up with the guys.  Amy and I had a nice time grabbing pizza on South Congress one night, and later in the weekend Amy made some really good chicken and dumplings in the slow cooker.  It turned out to be a nice, quiet weekend with really good weather.  I had a really nice time hanging out with Amy and riding my bike.

I hope everyone else had a nice weekend!  I also hope you have a nice Thanksgiving holiday if I don't get a chance to post between now and then!  I have a lot to be thankful for!  (Amy, my family, friends, my job, my health, Cassidy, etc., etc., etc.!)


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