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Mario Andretti

Buxton's BIG TIME Bash Again an Epic Night for Austin

Buxton's BIG TIME Bash Again an Epic Night for Austin

Thursday night in Austin, Texas, proved to be more magical than any of us could have ever imagined.

Fans started lining up outside of Brazos Hall around 4:00PM to ensure they could get inside for the Third Annual Buxton’s BIG TIME Bash presented by The Austin Grand Prix with Will Buxton, Formula 1 seasoned journalist and Pit Lane Reporter for NBC and NBCSN, as our gracious and entertaining host. Following the format for the past two years, local non-profit Meals on Wheels took up a suggested $5 donation at the door, with a number of guests generously giving even more.

After a short history of how we first connected with Will over the Austin race at the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix, Will took to the stage, welcoming the crowd to a jam-packed evening of surprises and entertainment. But first, we all took a moment to pause for injured Marussia Formula 1 Team driver Jules Bianchi, who remains in all of our thoughts and best wishes for his speedy, full recovery.

First to join Will on stage was his entire NBCSN Formula 1 Crew: Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs, and Steve Matchett. If you think this group is entertaining on TV, when they get together in person, their energy just multiplies. Cracking jokes, sharing stories, and taking digs at each other gave the guests a unique opportunity to get a little closer to their favorite American Formula 1 presenters.

Will then welcomed Matt Bennet, director of Road To: Mercedes, to introduce the show before its world premiere at Brazos Hall. It was amazing to hear about the behind the scenes work and passion that went into the show first hand before airing it.

The premiere of Road to: Mercedes was a huge hit with the crowd. The show highlighted some of the most storied and revered history of the Mercedes-Benz legacy. Will and his producer, Jason Swales, traveled far from their UK homes to Affalterbach, home of Mercedes AMG, and along the ride documented the deep passion and intricate sporting history of the legendary car manufacturer. To the satisfactory applause of the crowd, Will thanked the guests for their support of Road To: Mercedes and then introduced his NBCSN team that made it possible: Ron Wechsler, Blair Soden, and Jason. Similarly to Will’s on-air F1 presenters, guests appreciated hearing about what makes the team work so well together, as they shared stories on stage before tossing a bunch of NBCSN gear into the audience. The premiere of Road To: Mercedes offered guests of Buxton's BIG TIME Bash a rare chance to preview the show before it aired on NBCSN that night, which proved to be a proud moment for Will and Jason and the entire production crew, who were delighted to join in the fun and share it with guests at Brazos Hall.

Next on stage was Caterham F1 Team driver Marcus Ericsson, the Swedish driver who would later be announced over USGP weekend as a 2015 Sauber F1 Team driver. Marcus and Will shared insight into the Formula 1 Paddock before welcoming American Formula 1 reserve driver Alexander Rossi to the stage. Alexander again vocalized his gratitude for the out pour of American Formula 1 fan support. Alexander has been in Austin since Wednesday’s Fans’ Forum, meeting with fans, posing for photos, autographing memorabilia, and getting a nice chunk of air time. One thing that is clear, Alexander is incredibly passionate about making Formula 1 more accessible for the fans and making it a hit in the United States. But it wasn’t just Formula 1 personalities in attendance: Italian IndyCar driver Luca Filippi hopped up on stage next with Will to share personal stories, which was another treat, as any of Will’s followers know that he is a big supporter of the IndyCar series.

Throughout the evening, Will and his special guests handed out dozens of unique door prizes, including Formula 1 driver-autographed hats (including a couple made especially for cowboys), shirts, racing gloves, jackets, posters, a Pirelli book, an Alpinestars kit, Felipe Massa’s left mirror from his Williams Martini Racing car drive in Monza, a Pirelli T-shirt signed by Max Verstappen as the first autographed item he signed after being announced as the 2015 Toro Rosso driver, a TW Steel Watch, and a number of driver-autographed, professional F1 photographs donated by American motorsports photojournalist Jamey Price. To add to our amazement, the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team had three "2014 World Champion P1" signs from their 2014 Russian Grand Prix win signed by drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg to give out to three lucky guests. These three signs were signed immediately after the Mercedes AMG Petronas Team won their first ever World Constructors' Championship last month in Russia, and are also priceless mementos of the epic 2014 season.

A huge thank you is due to all of the Formula 1 teams, drivers, sponsors, and friends who donated priceless prizes that the winning guests will treasure forever: Mercedes AMG Petronas, Scuderia Ferrari, Infiniti Red Bull Racing, McLaren Formula 1 team, Lotus F1 Team, Williams Martini Racing, Sahara Force India, Pirelli, TW Steel, Alpinestars, “Lines” by Graham and Leigh, Jamey Price, and NBCSN.

But before the night was over, Will received a call on his mobile phone from the living legend Mario Andretti. Mario was finishing up dinner in a nearby restaurant and wanted to stop by Buxton’s BIG TIME Bash to say hello to the crowd and show his support for the fundraising initiatives for local non-profit Meals on Wheels. We later learned that Mario knows firsthand what a vital difference Meals on Wheels makes to home bound individuals in need, as he has delivered meals himself in New York.

Will was beside himself after speaking with Mario and shared the news with guests. When Mario took to the stage, Will bowed down to the Legend on stage, quipping “We’re not worthy!” to the roar of the crowd as hundreds of cameras flashed to capture the surreal moment on camera. Mario and Will were electric on stage, again sharing intimate stories of past experiences and a number of jokes with the crowd. It is still hard to believe Mario Andretti and all of our special guests took the time out of their busy USGP weekend to join us at Brazos Hall to raise money for Meals on Wheels.

The final door prize looked to be ready to go home with a winning guest: a 3D display of Circuit of The Americas enclosed in a shadow box and autographed by Mario himself. But Will had something else in mind, as he called us back to the stage for an amazing surprise. Will presented us with a check made out to Meals on Wheels in the amount of One Thousand Dollars from Ross Garber, who generously matched the door donations taken last year to help increase our 2013 donation to Meals on Wheels to $13,000+. This year, Ross Garber, Ferrari Challenge driver #66 for Ferrari of San Francisco, rallied support throughout the Ferrari Challenge paddock and raised a whopping $19,000 with Mark McKenzie, James Weilland, Chris Ruud, the Garber Family Foundation, Darren Crystal, and MG1 Motorsports donating! The 3D carving of Circuit of The Americas will be presented to Ross Garber as a small token of our gratitude and amazement at his support of Buxton’s BIG TIME Bash and making a huge impact with the local Austin community.

We are incredibly pleased to announce that at time of publication, the donation to Meals on Wheels totals $23,547.35, however that may well increase as a number of people have told Will that they want to donate to the amazing cause as well. You can continue to donate at the Meals on Wheels website at: (please choose "In celebration of" Will Buxton, Austin Grand Prix, or Buxton's BIG TIME Bash so we can add your donation in our tally!).

Will recapped the night in shock:

The Bash continues to grow year on year and I’m so delighted that our third annual event proved to be such a huge success.

I want to thank Kerri Olsen and Kevin Olsen for putting it all together, and Brazos Hall for giving their venue for the night and allowing the money raised to go directly to charity. The support and donations from the F1 teams, Pirelli and our good friends TWSTEEL, Graham and Leigh, Alpinestars and Jamey Price ensured an incredible array of wonderful prizes were handed out.

I’m so glad that Matt Bennett was able to be present to introduce the world premiere of Road To Mercedes, and that is was so well received. I’m indebted to my NBCSN colleagues, and to Marcus, Alexander and Luca for giving their time. And I am truly humbled and frankly gob smacked that Mario turned up to wow the crowd with his personal and hilarious stories.

Ross Garber is one of the most wonderful and caring people I’ve met since F1 started coming to Austin. Racing in the Ferrari Challenge this weekend, he nevertheless took the time to round up his rivals and friends and deliver the most incredible donation to the event. Words cannot express my gratitude to him, and to the Ferrari paddock.

And finally, I want to thank the fans who came out. Without them, we have no event and no sport. I’m so happy everyone enjoyed themselves and that they were generous enough to see our total donation for the event reach just under $25,000.

Thank you for making this event a raging success for the Austin community. It wouldn’t be possible without the energy and support of Will Buxton, who graciously gives this his all to make it a huge evening. We especially want to thank Brazos Hall for donating the amazing venue and last but not least, our family and friends who volunteer their time to make sure the event goes off without a hitch. Thank you for your generosity and support, and we can’t wait to see what the future holds and we hope you will be a part of future memories.

// Visit the Gallery to see more photos from #BBBash 2014


Mario Andretti Speaks about the future of Formula 1

Mario Andretti Speaks about the future of Formula 1

Early Saturday morning, Formula 1 World Champion Mario Andretti sat down with a small panel of journalist to discuss the state of Formula 1, the future of American drivers and the addition of an American team in 2016.

Bob Varsha of SPEED TV at COTA Opening Ceremony

Last week we shared Mario Andretti's first laps at Circuit of The Americas' opening ceremony and then side-by-side comparisons of Andretti and Lotus F1 Team Reserve Driver, Jérôme d'Ambrosio, testing the new track.

After interviewing Andretti we spoke to Bob Varsha, the host of Formula 1 coverage in America, which is currently broadcast on SPEED TV. A few weeks ago we learned that NBC has picked up the F1 television rights for America and the SPEED network will no longer be providing F1 coverage.

Since first getting satellite cable in 2000, 99% of my Formula 1 experience has been through TV, and SPEED's coverage has taken me through the the last twelve years of the sport.  From the height of Michael Schumacher at Ferrari, to the rising stars of Alonso, Hamilton, Räikkönen and more, SPEED has been a necessary household expense and I've enjoyed watching their coverage evolve over the years.

You may recall we spoke with Bob after the COTA naming ceremony in April 2011. It was a pleasure to speak with him again and hear his perspective of the track, especially after he had a chance to ride it for the first time.


Bob Varsha Talks COTA from The Austin Grand Prix on Vimeo.

As mentioned in the video, we'd like to thank SPEED TV for their F1 coverage the past 17 years. Thank you and we hope to see you on NBC!

Mario Andretti Takes First Lap at COTA Opening Ceremony

Media and invited guests assemble on Circuit of The Americas' starting grid

An electrifying day at Circuit of The Americas on Sunday as invited guests and media endured the Texas heat, albeit mid-October, to christen the circuit with a "First Lap" opening ceremony.

Official Formula 1 tire supplier Pirelli was on hand and did an excellent job of giving members of local media their first taste of a world class motorsports venue. Pirelli signage was evident on the track, branded baseball caps were given away to guests, four Pirelli Grid Girls shuffled around with F1 celebrities, and a large Pirelli branded hospitality tent, a staple at motorsports facilities, informally greeted guests when they stepped off the shuttle in the parking lot.

The Pirelli tent was our first stop. Inside, a Lotus F1 Team R30 sat on display for everyone to Facebook/Tweet/Instagram their photos. A small group of about 30 gathered inside the tent and were snapping photos non-stop. I stood behind four younger gentleman adorning black-embroidered Pirelli polos. As they watched two men battle it out on a racing simulator, I took a closer look and realized it was Jérôme d'Ambrosio taking on Patrick Dempsey.

Thankfully I contained my shreik of excitement and reached for my camera. As I tried to overtake the group (see what I did there?), one of them turned to me and said, "Okay, we know who McDreamy is, but who is the other one?" I informed them of Jérôme's position as Lotus F1 Team Third Driver and explained that he was the only current F1 driver in attendance that day. They asked why Dempsey was here, assumingly as an actor, and I shared that he is a professional racing driver and team owner, currently competing in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series and drove in the Petit Le Mans race in Atlanta over the weekend. They stood up straight and may have reached for their camera phones behind my back.

We wandered about the northern quarter of the Pit/Paddock and wove in and out of a few touring cars on display. We came across the Lotus F1 Team tent showcasing the black and gold cars du jour: a 2010 R30 and a 1978 Lotus 79. The Lotus F1 Team was welcoming and warm; most guests carefully walking around the parameter of the Lotus tent for the first half of the afternoon, afraid they were stepping into restricted, canopied space. However, as the day wore on and guests realized they could slip off their shoes and climb into the R30 (photo op!), the tent quickly became a favored hotspot. 

All of the cars lined up on the grid as drivers were interviewed for the ceremonial day. The majority of media surrounded America's last Formula 1 World Champion, Mario Andretti, as he stood at the nose of his 1978 John Player Special Lotus 79 Cosworth. Although he was scheduled to run the R30, the Lotus F1 Team fired up the Lotus 79 for Mario after the "Ribbon Cutting" ceremony, as the former had engine problems. In this video, Mario describes what it is like to get behind the wheel on a new track before we watch him take off from the starting grid.

Mario Andretti Completes The First Laps of COTA from The Austin Grand Prix on Vimeo.

After the flying laps, Mario piloted his Lotus back to the team's staging area. He had a few minutes to chat and I wanted to hear his opinion of the circuit from a driver's perspective.

Mario Andretti at the COTA First Lap Ceremony from The Austin Grand Prix on Vimeo.

It was such an honor to speak with Mario after this momentous occasion. In tomorrow's post, we'll share interviews with the opening ceremony's Host, Bob Varsha of SPEED, and Jérôme d'Ambrosio of Lotus F1 Team. F1 drivers in the New Delhi paddock this weekend will gain valuable insight from their colleague's perspective.

// Click HERE to view a gallery of our images from the First Lap Opening Ceremony.


Mario Andretti To Drive First Laps of COTA

Tomorrow afternoon, Mario Andretti, Patrick Dempsey, and Jerome D'Ambrosio will pilot the 2010 Lotus R30 around Circuit of The Americas as the first Formula 1 car to test the completed track. With just under one month to go until the inaugural F1 USGP in Austin, the first hot laps of the track will mark the official ribbon cutting ceremony of COTA and kick off the countdown to the November 18th race. 

Mario Andretti, 1978 Formula 1 World Champion and an Ambassador for Circuit of The Americas, will "cut" the ribbon by conducting the first laps of the circuit. This will be Mario's first time behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car in nearly 20 years since his departure from the sport. Beginning in June this year, Andretti has acted as an ambassador for the Circuit, working with COTA to promote the future home of Formula 1 in America.  Revered as an American motorsports legend, Andretti is the only driver in history to win a Formula 1 World Championship, NASCAR's Daytona 500, and IndyCar's premiere event, the Indianapolis 500.

Along with Andretti, actor Patrick Dempsey, known to most of the American audience for his part in the ABC TV series "Grey's Anatomy," will also take the Lotus R30 around COTA for a few laps. Dempsey, an avid motorsports enthusiast both operates a Grand-Am and American LeMans racing team, Dempsey Racing, and competes behind the wheel in races such as the 24 Hours of LeMans.

Jerome D'Ambrosio, reserve driver for the Lotus F1 Team, will join Andretti and Dempsey to take the R30 around COTA as the first licensed F1 driver to officially pilot the track. Additional guests for the afternoon's event include Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, Texas Comptroller Susan Combs, Commissioner Margaret Gomez, and Pirelli CEO Marco Tronchetti Povera, all of whom will help welcome the first official lap of COTA.

Also on the itinerary is a showing of various race cars who will be competing at COTA in 2013. With Grand-Am, V8 Supercars, and MotoGP already announced for early 2013, this should mean we'll see at least one of each of these taking a spin around COTA. Pirelli is also outfitting 25 vintage race cars with their P-Zero tires to do a special on-track demonstration. Hopefully this means they'll fill up the grid and show off some action on track in a short race, but we'll have to wait until tomorrow to find out for sure.

Join us tomorrow as we'll be live tweeting the event from on the ground via Twitter: @AustinGrandPrix.