THE CIRCUIT OF THE AMERICAS EXPERIENCE

BY NAVEEN VISWANATH

What do you do when you are in the middle of a pandemic, just got both shots of the vaccine, your brother just moved to Texas, and you have an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) capable of quick refueling?

Drive 1000 miles each way for a track day, of course.

The Circuit of the Americas (COTA) is not just a track. It is one of 23 Formula-1 (F1) tracks in the world this season, and the only active F1 track in the USA. A few chapters of PCA and BMW CCA put on Austin Schnell Fest. And even I, with my work-in-progress, non-daily driver 2006 330i, could drive there. What an opportunity!

Can you tell, “run what you brung” from the pictures? There were a few similar cohorts, even one from Colorado, but her car was transported.

I had an inkling the stars would align. When I wrote to the organizers, they had spots, even though the event was two weeks away. Most of my work is possible remotely. It was a reasonable part of my work schedule when I could work flexible hours. My family was supportive. Even the brake fluid was ready.

I made it there, drove on track, and made it back. Almost uneventfully. The fog light and fueling incidents are for later.

Day 1: The journey began from Niwot, CO on a Thursday afternoon. Did I mention that I had no AC and it was going to be 90 F in Texas? I drove to Norman, OK via I-70. I put off exploring the fun driving roads in Kansas for another time. It was good to see the many windmills, but the missing birds of prey saddened me. I had dinner from a can at the WaKeeney rest area in Kansas. There were helpful signs on the highway, with a number of available spots in rest areas.

One lesson from this leg: Don’t avoid tolls, especially at night on unfamiliar isolated roads. Late Thursday, between Wichita and Norman, after one set of animal eyes and a near miss of a dark shape, I went back to the toll road (I-35). I stayed with vaccinated friends. I was fortunate not to have used my sleeping bag the entire trip.

Day 2: I worked from early Friday until midday (having the rest of my team in CA helped). The three hours from Norman to Dallas felt a lot longer than the ten hours from Colorado to Norman. The traffic and the heat took a mental toll during driving. I met a few friends and family and stayed with my brother outside Dallas (also vaccinated).

Day 3: Luckily, track day began at noon on Saturday. I had an early start from Dallas and drove to Austin. Traffic was heavier, but at least the temperatures were cooler early in the morning. Growing up in India and watching F1 during high school, I never imagined I could drive on an F1 track, let alone drive 1000 miles each way to get there and back. I had a lot of mixed feelings about the pandemic, my place in the scheme of things, donuts – you know, the big and the little questions. It was an excellent track and an excellent day. I stayed the night with vaccinated friends in Austin.

Day 4: Another early start to get to the track on time. Another fantastic day. Back to Dallas, with the required stop at Buc-ee’s. I stayed with my brother again.

Day 5: Another flexible work day from early Monday morning to midday. Then a quick lunch at a restaurant from my hometown and on the road again. This time via US 287, which Wikipedia tells me is the longest three-digit US highway. I took this route on the word of friends who drive from CO to Dallas frequently. I am glad I did. US 287 is a mile away from home. Despite the many small towns on the way, it was a good drive. Within a few hours out of Dallas, the temperature became pleasant. I had dinner while watching the sunset at a gem of a rest area in Memphis, Texas.

I got home safely, the best outcome. There were numerous things that could have gone awry, but they didn’t and I am extremely thankful. I treasure all of the unlikely events that came together to make this once-in-a-lifetime trip happen.

A wise man once said, you regret what you didn’t do, more than what you did. I understand that a little better now.

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