Shortly after the formal F1US announcement on May 25, 2010, I was scouring the internet for any and all available news related to the return of Formula One in the US via Austin. While trying to identify other F1 fans in Austin, I came across a group of people who gather to watch F1 races when they are re-broadcast on SpeedTV later on race day. As I recall, I found out about an upcoming watch party at Steiner Ranch Steakhouse for the 2010 European Grand Prix in Valencia, Spain via Lionbridge Auto Leasing's Facebook page and countacted Tad Cole to get more details. I immediately called Kevin and urged him to be at the steakhouse at 2pm Sunday to meet other racing enthusiasts and start networking. He went, wearing his CARI shirt (which was fresh off the printing press) and joined about thirty other people viewing the race in the bar area, packed with flatscreens and cold beer. He met Michael Ferweda, owner of Zinger Hardware and the original organizer behind the F1 watch parties, and several others who participate in Your Ride is Here and Hill Country Drives, both car enthusiast organizations that attract fans of racing and encourage charity participation.
Since the first event, Kevin became a frequent attendee and made it out to five watch parties from June through October. However, with the final race of the 2010 F1 season coming up the second weekend in November, time was running out for me to make it to a party. Since Southwest Air makes it so easy for me to get from Chicago to Austin (direct flight, best flight crew), I decided I had to be at the final watch party of the season. Since Kevin’s first attendance the watch parties have switched venues to Cool River Café. It’s a great spacious venue with surround sound pumping through the theater quality speakers and a 14 foot screen broadcasting the race. Just like anyone else outside of the live broadcasting zone, Austin F1 fans have to stay socially unconnected and away from Facebook, Twitter and other digital news sources until they watch the race to prevent hearing the outcome. I can personally attest that once you make the mistake of spoiling an F1 race to another fan, you will never make that amateur mistake again. It’s like Tivo-ing a BCS bowl game so you can watch it properly in its entirety after work and then a co-worker telling you the outcome of the game in the middle of the work day. You just don’t spoil it for others.
On Sunday, November 14, Kevin and I joined about 50 F1 fans at Cool River for the last watch party of the season. We ordered some Austin favorites – chips and queso to start, a few Shiner Bock beers to wash it down, a Chipotle Burger for Kevin and I had some tasty BBQ Sliders – small bite-sized BBQ cheeseburgers with toppings of your choice. Shiner is a great Texan beer brewed for over 101 years in Shiner, Texas. It is a Texas favorite and considered an “import” throughout the rest of the US, including Chicago. I always get a chuckle when I see Shiner Bock listed as an import beer on a Chicago menu! It reminds me of the lazy days of summer on a porch in the gorgeous Hill Country of Texas.
We started mingling with other F1 fans while the Dubai Grand Prix broadcast in the background. I was extremely excited to meet the wizard behind The Austin American-Statesman's twitter account, @StatesmanF1. Dave Doolittle and I have been tweeting for months about the latest Austin Grand Prix developments, and we finally got to meet IRL ("In Real Life," as we say in the Twitterverse)! We enjoyed sharing stories and our predictions on how the Dubai Grand Prix would pan out. I also had the opportunity to meet Michael Barnes while he took in the watch party and gave a different account as Social Columnist for the Statesman. You can read his recap here.
We chatted with many enthusiastic fans including Mike McKinnon; Sondra Sondregger and Jack McCauley, owners of Velocity Adventures in Austin, Texas; David Hill, an enthusiastic sports photographer; Warren Peck, owner of Races2U (see below), and Ken Adams and Ryan Fox of Your Ride is Here. Your Ride is Here is a non-profit organization that provides cancer patients with transportation to treatment in a high-end automobiles. Ken realized personally that "making every appointment was critical to the success rate. Therefore, reliable transportation was one of the most important aspects of my life during those two months." Cancer treatment is hard enough; getting there should be as painless as possible.
Your Ride is Here raffled off a helmet racing shield and a titanium rear wing shim, which was used in Mark Webber’s Red Bull car from the 2008 season. Not only is a piece of a Formula 1 car a rare thing to come across, but the helmet shield was signed by Austin pro driver Rodrigo Sanchez, who was attending the party with his manager, Toni Calderon, and representing Racing For Mexico. Earlier this year, Racing For Mexico announced their partnership with MexNet Alliance, "a non-profit organization composed of business professionals and entrepreneurs whose main aspiration is to serve and provide a model for accelerating the success of present and future Hispanic leaders in the US." The money raised from the raffle of these two items goes to the transportation costs associated with getting patients to their chemotherapy treatment for Your Ride is Here.
We thoroughly enjoyed watching Sebastian Vettel winning the 2010 F1 race season and celebrated with – what else!? – a cold can of Red Bull! It was thrilling to see the youngest Formula One driver win his first championship. You could feel the energy and excitement in the room as he crossed the finish line. Everyone in the room hopes to see Sebastian and all the other F1 drivers and teams in Austin in less than two years.
We also enjoyed our first F1 simulator: a custom rig built by one of the loyal attendees of the watch parties (please share his name if you have it!), which allows you to sit in a life-size seat and drive a race car while the F1 2010 PC Game is displayed on a larger-than-life screen. Below is video of Kevin giving it a go for the first time on the Spa track in Belgium. Outside Cool River, Warren Peck of Races2U brings his slot-car racing setup for racers to test their competitiveness and skill against other racers. He’s built an eight car digital slot racing track that allows fans young and old to race replica Formula 1 cars to their limits and beat each other to the finish line. As Warren describes, "These are not the slot cars we played with as kids. Real racing strategy is required, and it can be quite competitive."
The watch party was a great way to network with other F1 fans in Austin in a casual and comfortable environment. Cool River’s entertainment viewing area was well equipped with plenty of comfortable seating conducive to watching the race alone, with a small or large group of friends, or while meeting new racing enthusiasts. They also have billiard tables off to the side and I hope the simulator and slot car races will be repeat visitors, as they provide interactive racing experiences which engages F1 fans with two hands on the wheel. We look forward to meeting you at a 2011 F1 Watch Party!
Did you make it to any F1 Watch Parties in 2010, in Austin or elsewhere? What is your favorite way to watch F1 racing, aside from the pit, of course!?
See more images in the Gallery - Final F1 2010 Austin Watch Party