We attended the first US Grand Prix at the new Circuit of the Americas (CotA) outside Austin, Texas.
You could say we'd been looking forward to it for a while. When the race was announced two years ago, we resolved to buy tickets. When the date was set, we cleared our calendars (well, sort of. I put the wrong weekend down and wound up signing up for The Color Run in New Orleans that same weekend and had to transfer the sign-up to a friend.) John left Friday morning at 3:00 to be there when the gates opened, and I believe he was there at sunup every morning.
Sarah and I set out at 6:00 Sunday morning, and made it to the Travis County Expo Center, where we needed to park, right around 9:00. Well, I say we arrived, but we were basically in line to get into the Expo Center. Twenty minutes later, we were making our way to the shuttle pickup. (Because of the number of people expected, ticket holders could park for free at either the Expo Center, or at a Downtown Austin location. You could park on site, but I hear appendages and firstborn children were required.) And another twenty minutes of standing in line for the shuttle. And then a half-hour ride from the Expo Center to the track, because we were in a school bus and couldn't do much on the new toll road in Austin.
So you'd think our waiting was just about over, right? Nope. We had about a mile walk from the shuttle drop-off to the track itself. And then we had to wait in line for a tram/shuttle to take us to the spot John had chosen. John did come out to meet us at the shuttle drop-off, so at least I had someone to help with Sarah and bags and all that.
All in all, it took two hours from the time I reached the parking area to get to our seat. And then I thought "well, why don't we get something to eat before the race starts?" - which would normally be great except I think everyone in the general vicinity of Turn 1 had the same idea, and the lines were so long you couldn't tell which line was for what, or where the lines stopped.
I would love to say I handled this with grace and dignity, and simply went back to our seats to wait for the crowds to clear, or patiently stood in line for a Fletcher's Corny Dog (the only corn dogs Jesus would eat.) I did, however, go back to our seats and have a small meltdown. At this point I had been up since 3:30 in the morning, had driven three hours with a two-year old, waited in line to wait in line, and all I wanted was lunch. It was nothing ostentatious, there was no screaming, or yelling, or flailing or anything like that. I just had a nice little cry in Turn 1 of the nice new track because I was tired and stressed out and hungry, and I had a sleepy toddler who now wanted her nap and ONLY Mommy's lap would do.
I waited until the race started and thankfully the lines magically disappeared. But y'all I did not know this about F1 fans; they apparently do not believe in sitting down to watch a race. Now, mind you it was 56 laps, which amounts to about two hours, but still. So finally, sleepy toddler went down (yes, while the race was going on) and I'm not too ashamed to say I had a little nap myself. I mean, if I can't see over people's heads and cameras held up to capture cars, then why not just sit and have a nap? We have a DVR and I can just watch the race later, right?
And once the race was over, the true madness began. Sarah and I caught a shuttle to go to the front gate. John had to turn in his Fanvision device, but it was at another gate. So he had to go do that, and then he waited for a shuttle until he gave up and just walked across. That took the better part of an hour (and yes, it is just as easy as you might imagine to keep a toddler occupied in a crowd of 120,000 all trying to leave while at the same time looking at every reasonably tall male in a black baseball cap to see if it's your husband.)
So we walked back out to the shuttle pick-up. But about halfway there, the crowd just stopped. The line stretched back the better part of a half-mile, probably a dozen people deep in some spots. So another hour there, to ride a school bus back to the Expo center. And then it took over half an hour to get out of the lot I was in and get on the one-lane road out to the road. Now, once we hit the road, the traffic was just fine and we had no issues the rest of the way, except for having spent the better part of four hours trying to leave.
To say there is room for improvement is quite the understatement. I'm in the process of composing a letter based on our experience, particularly focusing on the issues that families face. I know they can't do anything about the number of people, but the signage was sorely lacking, and the worst part for me was having no idea how long we'd be, particularly with a toddler who is accustomed to having her pull-up changed and eating on a fairly set schedule. I will also say that at a few points, the crowd was quite... I don't want to say oppressive, but just picture a throng of people standing in line, trying to get home, and no one really being sure exactly what's going on.
I'm sure the racing was great. I listened on the Fanvision for a while and it sounded good. You just couldn't see a lot where we were (the large video screens were all too far away.) Was it worth it to say we were there for the very first one? I'm not entirely sure at this point. Sarah was very interested in all the airplanes and helicopters, and overall she did great for a little one who found herself being asked to please stay close and seated for a long day.
However Mommy is just wiped, and ready to relax this weekend.