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New F1 track in Central Texas gives racing fans more options

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Posted: Tuesday, July 19, 2011 3:56 am

Robert Powell is looking forward to Formula One racing coming to Austin.

The 51-year old says he is a big NASCAR fan, even though one of his favorite drivers is John Force, a highly-successful drag racer and car owner. Powell works at Texas Thunder Speedway, a one-mile dirt track nestled on the southwest side of Killeen.

He, like many of the racing fans he sees and talks to at the track, has heard the news of the F1 racing returning to the United States and finding a home in southeast Austin.

That’s fine with him.

“We can race dogs or cats or horses — I don’t care, as long as we’re racing,” Powell said. “If it goes fast, I like it.”

The track in Austin is currently under construction just east of Texas 130 near FM 812. Completion is set for next year with a price tag of more than $240 million.

Last month, the Austin City Council approved to endorse the future F1 race — the United States Grand Prix. The international circuit features 19 stops this year, including races in Japan, Brazil and Canada.F1 hasn’t run in the United States since 2007, when it was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“I really think it will be cool,” Powell said. “For the economy and everything else. It’s a different form of racing, but it’s still racing.”

Added Kerry Brown, a longtime race fan and truck driver who grew up in Indianapolis and has been in Killeen since 1988: “I’m not down there as much as I used to be, but I know there are a lot of race fans. Austin is a pretty progressive city and I think that will be really good for them to have that track there.”

Because it’s not a dirt track — among other differences — there shouldn’t be direct competition with Texas Thunder Speedway.

At least that’s what speedway promoter David Goode says.

“It’s kind of like football and baseball,” Goode said. “With either one of them, you’re playing ball. But it’s completely different.”

He isn’t alone. There’s a saying around devoted dirt-track fans that “dirt is for racing and asphalt is for getting to the track.”

And because of sayings such as that, Goode and staff don’t always see the hard-core asphalt race fans at their track every weekend. Texas Thunder Speedway is a circular track essentially right in front of spectators like a movie. With F1 and other forms of road-course racing, the tracks are usually too big or designed where fans can’t see the entire layout.

“Those cars are scattered out and you can’t see those cars the whole course unless you were in a helicopter,” Goode said. “You get to pick one turn and that’s where you sit and watch it.“With dirt track racing, you’re watching every car for every lap — you can see everything.”

The novelty of the F1 race — and a new event — will have drawing power. Last weekend’s British Grand Prix set a record with 122,000 in attendance.

Hotels not only in Austin, but neighboring cities, are preparing to meet the demand on guest rooms. The once-a-year scheduling, however, could be a drawback. NASCAR travels from city to city across the United States, even making second stops at some tracks during the year. F1 races in numerous countries.

A month before the British Grand Prix, the tour was in Montreal for the Canada Grand Prix. The tour’s 2011 finale is in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Locally, on the other hand, Texas Thunder Speedway features racing from February through September.

“When they open up, they’ll draw a fan base — a big fan base,” Goode said.

That’s what Austin officials are hoping. Texas has successfully hosted events such as the Super Bowl at Cowboys Stadium to the NCAA Men’s Final Four at the Alamodome. Texas Motor Speedway hosts two NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide races, and an IndyCar race as well.

“It’s a prestigious race to have,” Brown said.

Goode will be there, not only to watch the race but — because he is a promoter — to watch the presentation.

“I’m going to go down there and watch it, but it’s going to be a business deal to me,” Goode said. “But who knows. I may like it and want to go back.”

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