Circuit of the Americas remains closed, held captive like much of the world by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Usually you could offset expenses with revenue, and right now the revenue is zero,” COTA Chairman Bobby Epstein said. “Right now the (Paycheck Protection Program) loan has gone a long way, but it’s not about any of us making an effort that can create revenue. It’s only the lifting of a pandemic and the ability for people to come together.
“There is no business right now.”
Even so, COTA will put its empty venue to good use this weekend with a new take on the age-old concept of a food drive, with donations going to help the Central Texas Food Bank meet the community’s growing need.
From noon until 5 p.m. Sunday, visitors will be allowed to drive their cars on the 3.4-mile track, which annually hosts Formula One’s U.S. Grand Prix. Donations are encouraged online, with COTA (along with Austin Bold FC) and Germania Insurance each matching up to $10,000. As of Monday afternoon, more than $40,000 had been raised.
Donations aren’t required to participate in the “drive” itself, which will be a parade lap at 20 mph. Flags and window messages are encouraged in support of front-line workers, and there will be an opportunity to drop off cash or nonperishable food items at “touchless” locations inside the pit garages.
Epstein said he hatched the idea after seeing long lines for food distribution on television and was reminded of food drives he participated in as a child at school.
“It was pretty easy to think we should try to do something,” he said. “What could we do that would be creative and different, and at a time when people can’t really socialize how do we get the city to engage and get them out?”
Cars will enter from FM 812, turn onto COTA Boulevard and be directed through parking lot A to get to the paddock. They’ll pull through a garage and take a left to enter pit lane and head onto the track.
From there, they’ll weave through 19 of the 20 turns that racing legends Lewis Hamilton and Marc Márquez usually dominate before heading back through the pits and exiting toward Elroy Road.
“I think they’ll be surprised at just how steep Turn 1 is when you’re in your car going up,” Epstein said. “You’re going to get a greater appreciation for all the different challenges and changes that a driver faces. Imagine, they’ll be driving 20 mph in areas where a motorcycle reaches 215 mph.”
Socially distanced restrooms will be available, but attendees are encouraged to stay in their vehicles at all times.
Financial contributions can make the biggest difference, as each $1 can produce up to four meals, but Epstein still encouraged visitors — especially parents — to drop off food as a tangible example like the one imprinted on him as a child.
“Even if you do most of your giving online, I still think it’s worthwhile to be able to have the experience I had when we couldn’t donate online,” he said. “You’d drop off a can, and you physically touched help. You really felt like you knew this was going to go to someone else and do something good.”
Like other businesses that rely on crowds, COTA has been hit especially hard by the fallout from COVID-19. In March, less than a week after the MotoGP Grand Prix of the Americas was postponed until November, the circuit cut its full-time staff by more than half.
Events such as the AutoNation IndyCar Challenge and a much-anticipated Rolling Stones concert were either postponed or canceled. Meanwhile, the F1 Grand Prix scheduled for October and the rest of the Austin Bold soccer season hang in the balance. Epstein said he is optimistic that some events will be able to happen in one form or another.
“We’re still six months away on most of that,” he said. “As we’ve seen, a lot of things can happen in six months. You can’t help but be hopeful.”
F1 has already confirmed plans for European races to be held without fans, which would salvage TV contracts but deal a crippling blow to venues that rely on ticket sales, concessions and other on-site spending for the bulk of revenue.
“If they help out, it’s better than nothing,” Epstein said, referring to F1.