The bedside alarm reads 7:16AM when I return to my room from a night of debauchry. I lower myself, fully dressed, onto the floral top sheet of a California King, nestled in the grand suite of a golf resort outside Austin, Texas. I calculate I have 12 minutes downtime before heading to meet the helicopter that will transport me from the lawn outside to Austin’s inaugural Formula One race. It is 12 minutes I badly need. To quote actor and author David Thewlis “ my head was pounding and I felt like I had swallowed a hot bicycle chain…
24 hours earlier I had arrived at LAX’s private jet terminal as excited as hot mustard. If you’ve never experienced private air travel then you will be pleasantly surprised, as I was, to find that instead of being herded, cattle-like, to a mild sexual assault from a TSA staffer and a scheduled departure, you sip gourmet coffee and flip through glossy magazines in a leather armchair until you decide its time to go. The only thing that could have possibly made the trip any better would be if an old friend walked in and announced that he would be joining us… which just so happened in the form of Falcon Motorcycle creator Ian Barry. We boarded and instructed the pilot to fire up the Gulfstream for our 1,200-mile jaunt to what can only be described at the sexiest event on the motorsports calendar.
Already aboard were our co-passengers—automotive designer Chip Foose and editor-in-chief of Cycleworld magazine Mark Hoyer. Ian and myself settled in, and as we chit-chatted while waiting for our take-off slot I chanced to look down at our footwear. Cowboy boots (Foose), casual motorcycle boots (Hoyer), weathered chelsea boots (Barry) and my own brightly colored Adidas Dragons. We couldn’t have been more different from one another—and not just in terms of shoe choice—but collectively we were excited as schoolboys about the prospect of a weekend infused with high octane fuel and high octave engines.
The weekend’s F1 race routine mirrored my own beverage consumption strategy—Friday practice, Saturday qualify and Sunday race. Pirelli Tires, the worlds sexiest rubbersmiths, provided hospitality in the form of a private suite in the main grand stand, overlooking the start-finish line straightaway. It’s really the only way to take in an F1 race in person. This is where all the socializing takes place, and after getting settled we headed there to watch the drivers qualify for their positions in the following day’s race. When we arrived I stepped out through the suite’s soundproof glass onto the balcony to look for the first time at the virgin asphalt of the $250 million Circuit of the Americas. As I gazed down a McLaren Mercedes piloted by Lewis Hamilton entered the straightaway and shrieked past at close to 200mph, before getting hard on the brake for a 4G left-hander, to cheers from the crowd below. I felt like a Roman emperor at the circus, and raised my hand to salute the heroics. The waiter mistook my gesture and brought me a drink. Coincidently we had found that the delightful woman assigned to mix drinks was a virtuosa of the bloody mary. Qualifying ended with Redbull’s sweaty-haired wünderkind Sebastian Vettel at the front of tomorro’s pack, and my fellow Englishman Jenson Button starting a lowly 12th.
After dinner some off-duty Austin cops had been given the task of ferrying us downtown and getting us back to the hotel. First stop was a party hosted by some old friends from the Bullrun rally. We were seated at a table elevated just enough above the dance floor to create the impression of importance, prestige and a total lack of taste. But our band of rogues found it difficult to settle in as the dancers started shaking their scantly sheathed bottoms inches from our faces. Plus the music was too loud to talk cars. Ian, in particular, has a low threshold for Eurotrash. The man that creates the worlds most beautiful and exclusive motorcycles has little tolerance for anything but the truly refined and we decided it was best to get him out before he made good on his threat to punch someone (or us). It was a tough call to leave a table covered in astronomically marked up booze that we didn’t have to pay for. We decided to take a chance on an unsanctioned password protected speakeasy around the corner suggested by a lady friend from Austin that a reliable Frenchman from LA connected me with.
Our "white rabbit" was accepted at the door and we were led onto what looked like the set of some ’90s movie about “cool people.” My gamble was either going to pay off big or the chaps would blame me for all eternity for a terrible night in Texas. My friend’s friend turned out to be easy on the eye, and she wasn’t alone. Within minutes the warm hospitality of Austin had engulfed us and we became extremely well acquainted with the house specialty, a tequila-based drink called El Diablo. High jinks ensued, and while I am sworn to silence about the way the rest of our witching hours played out, I will admit to running up and down a suburban street around sunrise, in dress pants and shirtless, trying to catch a cab back to the hotel before the helicopter was due to take off.
A friend from past car rallies, Claus Ettensberger—owner of CEC wheels and ambassador of all things fast and Deutsche—and his delightful sidekick Matt Le Blanc had an equally interesting evening and had only just made it back too, and we greeted each other bleary-eyed in the lobby. Unlike me though, they failed to make it to the makeshift helipad on the hotel’s lawn where, as if in some swanky war zone, people in crisp white jeans and sockless driving shoes waited for a bird to take them in country. On my last helicopter ride (to see the F1 at Silverstone in England) I had provoked the pilot into doing some unorthodox maneuvers. This time I refrained, fearing El Diablo might make a sudden reappearance.
The start of an F1 race is like nothing you will ever experience. You might come close by taking a flight of F16 fighter jets and having them all race at full throttle down a runway. It’s a sonic violation—albeit welcome—a Nirvana-esque detonation that speaks to me like no god ever could. It’s unbelievably thrilling; I nearly bit through the glass containing my third bloody mary when 24 of the worlds finest racing drivers careened past me into that first, handsome uphill hairpin just to my right.
The race then settled in for 56 laps of incredible competition. Jenson Button miraculously fought his way up to the front to lead the race for a while but poor pit strategy put him back to fifth by the time the checkered flag flew over the race’s winner, Lewis Hamilton. Meanwhile another contest had been brewing, which I had managed to win by procuring the number of the most attractive woman in the luxury boxes—all of them. The technique involved brashly climbing over and through George Lucas’s private balcony to single her out amongst the big watches and wealthy Argentines occupying the suite where she had been capturing the attentions of every red-blooded man in attendance. My own pit strategy was impeccable, if I say so myself.
With the Sunday sun setting the Gulfstream lifted off with two more passengers on board—German Claus and Matt Le Blanc. Stories were told that had to be sworn to secrecy and, over champagne and snacks, plans for future misadventures were hatched. One thing all our party agreed upon though—if you want to enjoy the drama of the race action of Formula One, stay home and watch it on your television. If you want to meet insanely interesting people, have absurd adventures, and make lots of new friends—not to mention appreciate at first hand the sights and sounds of one of the world’s greatest sporting spectacles, then I suggest you make some suitable arrangements for New Jersey, 2013.