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Sunday, November 25, 2012


My first paragraph must be an apology.  I have no photo's to go with the post, as I have used my 'capacity'.  However I shall attempt to fix the problem, but for now, please use your imagination!

From the moment it was announced that Formula 1 was coming to Austin, the atmosphere was electric with all, but the Austinites.  Most of the people whom I know did not realise the magnitude of this series of races.  Samantha and I were very excited, as we have been avid fans for a number of years.  My children cut their teeth on the Silverstone Track, and as they learned to speak, their first words were 'Da da David Coulthard', and 'Ma ma McLaren'!  Of course, my first memories were of Jackie Stewart and the late Graham Hill. 

Despite the fact that the completion of the track was somewhat delayed, and the 'powers that be' were considering pulling the plug, the fervour mounted, and finally the deal was sealed to verify our little city was going to host the homecoming of F1 to the USA, with the prodigal son being absent from these shores for five years.  As soon I received my daily email from the Austin Business Journal, which contained the confirmation that it was 'All systems go!', I considered the possibility of becoming a volunteer.  However, it occurred to me that there would probably be some activity downtown, and as I work downtown, it was possible that they would send me to some remote edge of the city to give out 'welcome' maps.  Try as I might, I could not justify spending nearly $400 on a ticket, and was strangely relieved that all were sold out practically as soon as they went on sale.  

The visitors started to appear on Wednesday afternoon, and by Thursday, the familiar look of 'where am I?' was on the faces of most people who ventured down to our end of 6th Street.  Samantha and I took a walk along to Congress Avenue.  Although the track was south of the river, and not within realistic walking distance from the office, large screen were being erected downtown, as well as booths to entertain the crowds who were not at the Circuit of the Americas.  Two streets were closed to traffic, with signs indicating that further mayhem was going to be created for the regular traffic, over the weekend.  The weather was pleasantly mild for the natives, but the visitors from the northern hemisphere found it to be warm.  An English accent pricked our ears, and I stopped a couple to ask if they were here for the race.  They were from London, and we welcomed them to Austin, which they found to be a very friendly, young and lively city. We concurred!  At the end of the next block, I asked one of the policeman, manning the barricade, whether the booths would be open to the public. 'Ask this guy', he said, pointing to the person to whom they had been talking when we approached.  'Yeah, love; it's open to ev'ry one'.  The accent was far from Texan, or native American both post or pre-Pilgrim.  'I'm from West Drayton', he proudly announced.  Samantha and I smiled, and told him that we had lived in Austin for eight years, but were from Hertfordshire, but originally I was from a little town in between Wembley and Harrow.  (Not many people, both home and away, had heard of Kenton, from where I originally hale, and it was always easier to say it was in between the far better known towns.)  He was part of the extended McLaren team, and had it on good authority, that they still had not finished putting up all the spectator stands.  We did not disbelieve him, but assured him that this is Austin, and it will all be alright on the night!  Quite satisfied with the information, he told us to make sure we came back over the weekend.  We assured him that very little would stop us, and made our way back to the office.

Despite the fact Dana and I left the office on Friday rather late, due to the amount of work that (thankfully) flooded in during the afternoon, the morning was very quiet.  The courthouse was running with a 'skeleton' staff, and most offices were closing at midday, as they feared they would not make it out of town, due to the road closures, and extra traffic. Kelly, Samantha and I took advantage of the lull, and left Dana alone with the dog, while we went in search of adventure.  Unfortunately, the fun was not due to start until 6pm, but would recommence at 10am on Saturday morning.  We did manage to collect a few goodies, courtesy of Fiat, who were running several contests.  The Mobil booth displayed a replica racing car of the one to be driven by our home grown Jenson Button, and another Englishman explained that if we came back 'tommora' it was possible we may be able to change the wheels, as they did in the pit stops!  The gentleman from West Drayton was hovering in the background and came over to ask if his friend intended doing any work, or was he just going to 'chat up the girls'!  The cockney banter was very amusing, although Kelly found it hard to keep up with the different language.  We headed back to the office, just as they closed another two roads. 

Quite out of character, I gave into temptation on Saturday morning, and left my ironing (my last chore) for another day.  Samantha came to pick me up at 10am, and fortunately, due to my very early start, I had finished all other tasks.  We dropped the car and the dog at the office, and walked the six blocks to Congress Avenue.  It did not take long for us to have my woven shopping bag full of useless items, being given out by various sponsors.  The queue to drive the 1926 racing car, hooked up to a simulator, was very long, but we took a ticket and decided to come back later.  No Austin venture is complete without the Pepsi stand, and this was no exception.  We took 'the challenge', enjoyed a bag of Doritos, and took a bag home for later.  As we toured the small area, we came across the small race track with the miniature cars, operated by the hand held battery consuls.  Of course I would like to take part in the race!  The two young boys who were going to race against us, were very confident.  However, little did they know that at the age of 7, I too was a champion, and unfortunately for the two youngsters, the equipment was, 'old school'!  Samantha started very well, and was well on the way to completing the first of three laps.  The boys seemed to be handling the equipment very well.  My co-ordination skills, or lack of them, were letting me down, and my previous expertise appeared, sadly, to be a definite thing of the past.  All was not lost, as after three minutes, the organiser suggested that perhaps we should attempt to complete one lap, and whomever crossed the line first, would be the winner.  Samantha was an inch away when her car hit the side, and the two boys were finding it difficult to negotiate their way around the handset, as it was not a 'joy stick', when my car came back to life, and I reversed half way around the track to cross the line, backwards.  'The winner!' was shouted with relief by the organiser.   Samantha felt robbed; I was ecstatic; the two boys were still wondering if they had entered a museum!

Our numbers had already been called by the time we got back to the simulator, but we were in Austin, and no one cared. We could go next!  Fitting into the car was the third biggest problem I suffered. Getting out was the second. Surprisingly enough, the greatest problem I encountered was not how to drive the car, but the motion sickness I suffered as it started.  Determined not to give in to the inner ear disability, I started to move the vehicle on the screen.  My foot hit the accelerator and I whizzed around the track at top speed, slowing down at the hairpin bends, and much to the amazement of the onlookers, I became a contender for the fastest lap.  Disaster struck on the third lap, when I crashed into the stands, and lost precious seconds.  Not to be deterred, I backed out and raced as fast as I could back to the track, and continued on my way.  Convinced that I was going to make it on to the podium, I put my foot to the floor, and concentrated, ignoring the shouts from the onlookers.  As far as I was concerned, crossing the finish line is a win, and it should not matter that I was going the wrong way around the track, but not all share my way of thinking!  I did not win the prize, but enjoyed the experience.

The Mobil stand was very busy, but we decided to queue.  The couple who were standing behind had flown in from Southern California, but originated from Portsmouth, England.  They had tickets to the 'real thing', but had decided to see what Austin was all about!  We followed the crowd and eventually were in the line to change the wheel on the replica racing car. As we neared the front, we were recognised by the man whom we saw on Friday.  'You came back', he said!  From the other side of the car, the gentleman from West Drayton announced, 'It's the girls from Willesden...naw not Willesden; Wembley 'n 'Arrow!'  Near enough!  I refrained from correcting him on his pronunciation, despite the voice in my head screaming my mother's words, 'There is an 'H' in Harrow!'  The dropping of 'H's and 'T's were never so welcome, as the two English 'girls', now living in Austin, were the stars of the show!  We were pitted against a Japanese team.  Samantha took the drill and I took the tyre.  We changed it twice.  We came in second!  It was probably the first time that I have ever lacked the adrenaline to win, as it was just so much fun being able to actually take part in the exercise.  We thanked the two men, and wished them a safe journey home. 

We left downtown five hours after we arrived.  Laden down with several tyre gauges, and enough Doritos to start our own taco stand, we went on our way to Walmart. 

The first race at the Circuit of the Americas was won by a Brit.  Lewis Hamilton drove the McLaren.  It was amusing to tell everyone, 'We changed the wheels on that car!'  On Monday morning, Austin was once again, 'just' Austin, if it can ever be 'just'!  The only sign that anything had happened were the large trucks carrying the portaloos out of town.  Austin did not need to be put on the map, but Formula 1 was put on the map in Austin, and although I did not have a ticket, this year, the Comptroller of Public Accounts has signed a ten year contract to ensure the race returns, so who knows what the future might bring.  Dana offered to buy me a ticket for next years experience, but he will not join me.  He told everyone who asked, 'I would rather have my teeth ground with a metal file!'  I will be looking for one during the weeks coming up to Christmas, just to see if he changes his mind! 

Our work week was three days only, due to Thanksgiving being on Thursday.  We had planned to go away but decided to put Tennessee on hold for a couple of months.  We chose to continue the tradition of enjoying the family feast, and dog sitting weekend, which is...........another story.

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