Story and photo by Vickie Miller

By my calculations, this was my seventh trip to Circuit of the Americas (COTA), which in the past has included two F1 races, V8 SuperCars, Grand Am, and the Pirelli World Challenge. Yes, it’s Texas and it’s always hot, but every visit to this track has brought a different level of racing excitement due to the variety of race series and allowing all levels of competition.

Now let’s chat about the track. According to Vickiapedia, the short fast journey from start/finish up and around turn one is the best in auto racing. Due to the elevation, tight left turn, and the exit back down hill to another quick right-hand turn, the result would wake up any driver and could send the healthiest person into a diabetic shock! Turn one doesn’t care if you are in a Lambo or an F1 machine, it is put there to tease you.

COTA is like many tracks- confusion with the security gate guards and access to pit road, parking confusion, lack of shuttle bus service. It is very frustrating which simple clear communication would solve, but then it wouldn’t be COTA. The big thing I would change with COTA is to allow more than one tent/booth to sell water to the fans in the paddock area. I saw one food truck, with long lines, parked by the Patron tent, which I am assuming sold beverages and some type of food, but I didn’t check it out myself.

It was so hot this past weekend and fans had to walk up hill both ways to go from the paddock to the fan area for a larger selection of food and drink. That was a shame. Also the few picnic tables by the Patron tent, provided the only seating area for fans, and there was no shade. That was a shame.

There was no food or opened water bottles allowed in the track and was taken at the entrance gates by the security guards. That was a shame. At the March Pirelli World Challenge race, there were a couple food trucks in the paddock area, and the same could have been arranged for TUDOR/WEC event.

Now let’s chat about the event. With five racing series in attendance and on-track local car corrals being allowed to take track laps, there is never a minute (well, maybe lunch break) when cars are not on the track. This means no rest for the track marshals, flaggers, coordinators, officials, and safety teams.

The weekend event included first class race car drivers from Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge (GT3 Cup), Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo Series (LBST), Continental Tire Sportscar Challenge (CTSC), and TUDOR United SportsCar Championship (TUDOR) with all four classes in attendance. The COTA weekend is the only America stop on the FIA World Endurance Championship (FIA WEC) tour.

Due to my work, yes I have a real job, I was unable to arrive to the track until Friday morning so I knew the two days would be backed with action. If you have read my past articles covering COTA, you know the support (or upper) paddock (GT3 Cup, LBST, CTSC, etc.) is far away from the main (or lower) paddock and pit road. Time did not permit me from making the trip up to the upper paddock. To the drivers I missed, no fears, I will find you at Road Atlanta, consider yourself warned!

Now let’s chat about the racing. Okay, I have to be honest. Due to the crazy fun weekend schedule, I was only able to catch a few minutes of the LBST and GT3 Cup races from the television screens at the track.

I know, I’m a bad race fan, but it gets worse. For the CTSC event, I attended the fan walk and watched about 30 minutes of the total race, and I did get podium photos! I just haven’t figured out how to be two places at the same time.

I am very happy for the Stevenson Motorsports Racing team of Andrew Davis and Robin Liddell, two nicer guys will you not find, winning the GS class race in the # 6 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R car. I had a lovely conversation with Robin later in the day about beer! The ST class winning team of Spencer Pumpelly and Luiz Rodriguez Jr in the RS1 Porsche Cayman #17 car were very excited on the podium and equally friendly to this race fan.

The TUDOR start of the race was very emotional for every race fan in attendance whether you knew Justin Wilson or not. As the cars were taking a parade lap to start the race, COTA showed a short video honoring Justin Wilson, and I hope this was viewed by fans watching on television, too. If you were not a fan of Justin Wilsons’ before the video, you were afterwards. Oswaldo “Ozz” Negri, driver of the #60 Michael Shank Racing car, was at the wheel for the memory laps and the start of the race. I know he felt honored to drive the car covered with Justin Wilson memories.

Ozz qualified the car and pushed his hardest for the pole, but just being in the front row for the start was an amazing tribute. When the car came by the front stretch, the crew from all the teams stood out on pit lane to honor Justin as the car rolled by for the last parade lap. I was on pit road watching but I bet the view from the grandstands across the track brought a tear to the eye of even the toughest of race fans. Ozz and co-driver John Pew struggled throughout the race and held on for a 4th place finish.

During the Tudor and WEC practice session and race, I’m hoping no one had “track limits” as the words for drinking game. While I heard much banter at the track and on RadioLeMans, and I am no expert on the subject, I will say….if you put it there, the driver’s will use it. I don’t know of any driver who would not push the boundaries in order to find two tenths! #BadAssWilson

Now let’s chat about the WEC race. There are two parts of the WEC race at COTA which are fantastic and both are only viewable from the front stretch grandstands. The first favorite part is the start. To hear the thunder as the world class cars zoom past you, navigate their way up the hill building, and the anticipation of a clean turn one start is amazing. While all the race is enjoyable, I wait for dark to set in. Yes, Saturday is a long day, but moving to an earlier start of the WEC race would be dreadful.

I love when the majority of a race is run after dark. I love when two cars in the same class head into turn one, and I lean forward in my seat on the front stretch looking to the right waiting to see which driver will touch the brakes first and where. Who will be the first to let up? Who will take the inside line?

The second favorite part of the race is when LMP1 cars like Porsche 919 Hybrid or the Audi R18 e-tron Quattro Hybrid would come out of turn 20 head to the front stretch, come up alongside to an Aston Martin or Ferrari and zoom past with the sound of “SEE YA” in the background and head out into the dark night!

Now let’s chat about the circus, yes CIRCUS! I went to the circus and a race broke out! Other than the heat, which is not controllable people so deal with it, the major disappointment for me was the Cirque du Soleil tent in the parking lot. When I arrived to the track on Friday, I was greeted with the news that instead of parking outside gate one and enjoying a nice air conditioned van ride to the track, I would be parking high on a hill past turn one in the dust and, oh yea, you have to walk. I did manage to find the shuttle Saturday night after the race.

First, I have never been a fan of any circus. I realize the Cirque du Soleil isn’t an average circus. I would assume the entertainment is more of the tumblers and performers’ type, and not so much animals trained or in a cage. I have never been a big fan and after taking up the parking lot, I vow to never support the organization in any manner.

Second, what made it worse is the track has my email address as I get many nice messages, but where was the prior notice about the parking? Bad news is much easier taken when presented proactively. Just saying.

I traveled to Austin, TX to watch a racing event, not Cirque du Soleil. Racing is enough a circus on its own, and we don’t need a big tent taking up parking lot space anywhere near the facility. I am assuming COTA made a lot of money selling the parking area to the circus folks, but they sold out the fans by doing so. I voiced much stronger feelings about this to my friends (thank you for listening) but it was very sad and disappointing. That was a shame.

Now let’s chat about the fans. People at the race track basically fall into one three groups: (1) people in attendance, who basically go to the track to walk around, talk to a few drivers and, have no knowledge about weather and were unprepared for the heat, probably went to the circus thing, and stayed indoors (don’t understand these people); (2) true race fans, who know the drivers in which car and series, collect autographs, complain about BoP, and sit in the stands to listen to the engines roar which is why they traveled to the event (love these people); or (3) true race fans whom I have known for several years and I cherish the times I see them at the track. #TrackFamily

To me Chad Casey, is part of the latter, and when one part of family is hurting, it affects us all. If you don’t know Chad, you are missing out. Chad is a member of Sports Car Unleashed, which is trio of racing nuts who go to races and interview drivers and publish as podcasts for all race fans to enjoy. Going into COTA weekend, I had seen Chad’s post on Facebook regarding his cancer and starting chemotherapy.

While at COTA, I received a message from part of the Sport Car Unleashed crew (which I still call GrandAm Unleashed) about an idea to help brighten Chad’s day and let him know just how much the racing family cares. I made up a sign with the hashtag #kickCancerAss and off I went.

The week leading up to COTA, I had a totally different plan for my event article. I had interviews scheduled, which would have to wait until Road Atlanta, because I was on mission. When I explained my mission to the drivers, they totally understood and would make themselves available to me at Petit LeMans. Quite the family

I proceeded to ask IMSA Tudor and CTSC drivers (many of whom have been on Sports Car Unleashed show) to hold the sign as I took their photograph, which were tweeted during the day! When I approached the drivers with the idea, I received basically one of the following responses: (1) “Anything for Chad, love those guys”, (2) “I’ve never met Chad but love the show”, (3) “I’m not sure I know the show or Chad, but anything for Vickie.” Quite the family.

One of the best responses came from Patrick Dempsey. He wasn’t sure if he knew the podcast show (sorry guys) but when he saw the sign and I explained the situation, his response was “Of course, anything to help fight cancer.”

Maybe people expressed their concern and requested more information. I consider health one of the many private parts of our lives and suggested checking Chad’s Facebook page to read what Chad is willing to share. If you want to see the photographs, please search Twitter for the hashtag #kickCancerAss or check Sports Car Unleashed Facebook page or @scunleashed Twitter account timeline.

I encourage all race fans to check out the Sports Car Unleashed @scunleashed guys (Chad Casey @ChadCaseyGAU, Richard Hall @RolexDPracer, and Tommy Brolsma @TommyBrolsma)

All that being said, since being in Las Vegas for the Indy race 2011, this was the 2nd toughest race weekend for me personally. While I know Justin Wilson would not have been racing in any car for this series, memories of Justin were visible everywhere and a constant reminder how cruel fate can hit anywhere anytime. I chatted with Stefan Wilson on pit road for quite a while, who himself is an amazing person. Quite the family.

Thank you all for reading and I welcome your comments. I have no affiliation with IMSA, TUDOR, WEC, etc. just a fan. There are many blogs and websites where you will find statistics, results, and scoring from the race; this is “just the way I see it”. Got a response? Follow and tweet me @viclovesracing