A Ferrari Formula 1 car on display at The Starting Grid Luncheon. Photo by Mike Boone.

The following is by AGP friend Mike Boone. Mike is an active participant in the Austin motorsports scene and contributes to this site from time to time. He attended The Starting Grid Luncheon and had this to share about his experience.  

The official countdown to the 2012 Formula 1 United States Grand Prix™ kicked off in Austin, Texas on Thursday with a celebratory luncheon. Hollywood legend and two-time Academy Award®-winning director Ron Howard entertained a packed house, while serving as guest speaker for The Starting Grid luncheon at Austin’s Downtown Hilton Hotel.

Perhaps Ron Howard’s most entertaining statement at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) Starting Grid Luncheon was that his next movie could hold this title and tell the story of the trials, tribulations and successes of the birth of COTA. We’ll see if that turns out to be a reality in a few years. 

Of greater relevance was the message brought by every speaker: COTA is a great effort by great people for great people which will result in great things in great numbers.

In keeping with Ron Howard’s excellence and award winning history, if I could award the speakers’ presentations it would look something like this:

  • Most Experiential – Ron Howard
  • Most Educational – Bobby Epstein
  • Most Visionary – Red McCombs
  • Most Praiseworthy of Texas – Governor Rick Perry
  • Most Witty – Mayor Lee Leffingwell
  • Most Beautiful – COTA Grid Girls

It was great to see so many of the people I have gotten to know over the past 3 years at various race-related events, in one place. Based on my circle of friends and acquaintances present here, it was evident to me that a large number of the audience was attending primarily, because of their interest in Formula One and racing in general.

Champagne surrounds the base of the 2012 F1 USGP Winner's Trophy. Photo by Mike Boone.With some jest Mr. McCombs expressed that, of the 1100 luncheon attendees, most were there to see Ron Howard and some liked racing. Ron Howard is certainly accomplished and respected but I believe this group was there because they love Formula One and all it brings.

Governor Perry did a great job of sharing the success that Texas has experienced economically and how the existing business friendly environment is a perfect match for Formula One and the Circuit’s mission. He shared several encouraging statistics about anticipated race related revenues and presented a certificate of appreciation from the State of Texas to Red McCombs.

Mayor Leffingwell presented his content in a very organized and easy to listen to manner. He opened with a couple of references to Ron Howard’s background, stating that F1 in Austin is like a Super Bowl in Mayberry. He then predicted there were Happy Days ahead. He credited Red McCombs and Bobby Epstein for their vision and leadership in bringing this project to fruition.

Red McCombs shared a wide variety of information, from statistical evaluations to personal family stories. But the two themes I took from his presentation were that this is a for-profit business and it will only be successful because of the right people. It was encouraging to hear him say that he evaluated why the other US Grand Prix had failed and believed in this one because of the passion held by Bobby Epstein and his team. Even though his mission was unsupported by his “old fart” friends and investors, he pushed on and found new money to support the track.

Bobby Epstein helped the audience understand how the seemingly inflated, anticipated revenue estimations were generated. He walked us down the road of each person’s anticipated expenditure on hotel, food and novelties. Listening to him let me walk away thinking that $500,000,000 revenue isn’t so outlandish of an expectation. His most comprehensive statement was, “It’s not F1 that’s here; it’s opportunity.”

Ron Howard focused primarily on his movie career and the experience he has had while creating his new F1 focused movie called Rush, which features the life and times of Formula One drivers Niki Lauda and James Hunt. Of greatest interest to me was his comment that he believes the race will be a success because the sport is both “visceral and modern.”

It was very pleasing to understand that the message I heard in my Formula One volunteer training also resonated throughout every speakers’ presentation. We have an opportunity to make Austin a destination city like never before and the only way we will be successful in competing against cities like Monaco, Spa, Abu Dhabi, Milan and others is how we treat our visitors. It is about people and their experience here. The Circuit of the Americas was built based on a belief in the leaders’ passion and is expected to be a success because of the amazing experience every participant will have, as afforded by every volunteer, employee and local fan’s effort to make it more friendly and inviting than any place on earth. 

Mike Boone poses with the "COTA Girls," the grid girls for the 2012 Formula 1 USGP. Photo by Mike Boone.