It’s easy to make jokes about Texas and Formula 1. Even the local press in Austin have been having some fun with the story. At the end of last month John Kelso, a columnist for the Austin American-Statesman, drove to Elroy, the largely uninhabited little burg 15 miles southeast of downtown Austin where Tavo Hellmund plans to build his F1 track.
Kelso reported that Elroy consists of a convenience store, a service station selling used tyres, a general store fronted by hay bales, a small library run by volunteers and ‘Bubba’s Wild Game Grill’, a restaurant specialising in fried coyote tail. Unsurprisingly, nobody in Elroy knows anything about Formula 1. “You couldn’t find a more unlikely place on the planet for an F1 crowd if you tried,” Kelso observed.
The owner of Elroy’s convenience store showed Kelso his selection of baseball caps and bumper stickers. ‘Where the hell is Elroy, Texas?’ asks one of his best-selling bumper stickers.
And maybe that’s the point. The land is cheap and there aren’t too many people in Elroy. There’s unlikely to be any political opposition to the project as there would be in spades anywhere near New York City or Los Angeles, or most any other place in America where Formula 1 fashions itself visiting.
Elroy is also located barely six or seven miles from Austin’s Bergstrom International Airport, and Austin – despite provincial European jibes – is a very urbane city. It’s Texas’s state capitol and is also a college town with a thriving arts and music community. The city is known as the USA’s live music capital and ‘Austin City Limits’ is the longest-running live music show on American television.
Austin is a little less than 200 miles south of Dallas and 75 miles northeast of San Antonio. Houston is about 150 miles to the east so there are many millions of people within a 200-mile radius of Austin. For Texans these are easy, quick drives or short-hop flights, so if Hellmund is actually able to build his US$200 million facility and stage the United States Grand Prix in 2012 he will have a tremendous pool of well-heeled Texans to draw from.
So again, it’s easy to poke fun at F1 in Texas, but there’s every chance that Tavo Hellmund will get the last laugh. If he makes it happen and F1 were to fall in love with Austin and start singing the city’s praises, the race will serve the city and state proud in portraying a new image of Texas to the world. And Elroy’s convenience store will be sure to sell out its supply of ‘Where the hell’s Elroy, Texas?’ bumper stickers.