AUSTIN, Texas — Americans, listen up.
There is no sound in the world like the sound of a Formula One race car. You can try to imagine what a 2.4-liter V8 engine sounds like when it’s revving at 18,000 RPM, but you can’t possibly understand the force until you hear and see it in person.
This is a sport that dominates global racing attention and it’s back in Austin, Texas for the second year. Formula One has committed to 10 years at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, a venue that hosted 265,499 people over three days during its inaugural Grand Prix last year. This weekend’s United States Grand Prix is expected to draw in even bigger numbers.
It’s no surprise to Paco Calderon, of Edwards. He was standing at turn one during qualifying Saturday, as the high-pitched shrieks of Formula One racing engines roared by, wondering why the sport isn’t the king of all racing in this country.
“The rest of the world is a fan of Formula One since you’re born, but the United States don’t quite understand that subject,” said Calderon, who is originally from Mexico. “NASCAR racing is just helmet-throwing racing. This is racing.”
Calderon brought his buddy Vince McNeill, of Wildridge in Avon, to the event this year to show him what all the global fuss about Formula One is about. Wouldn’t you know it that the guys noticed a paddock-access media credential hanging around the neck of a reporter — yours truly, and also hailing from Eagle County — standing next to them. It didn’t take long before Vail became part of the discussion.
It’s an obvious market from which to draw Formula One fans. Aspen, Vail and Breckenridge are jet-setting destinations that attract the rich and famous, as are stops along the Formula One calendar like Monaco, Singapore and Monza, Italy.
Calderon wasn’t the least bit surprised when he first heard that Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton has a home in Bachelor Gulch.
But part of the problem with Formula One’s lack of relative popularity in the United States is exactly that, Calderon said.
“This is too fancy and it costs too much money — that’s what Americans think,” he said. “A general admission ticket is like $60. Hello, it’s not that expensive.”
Janet Guthrie, a retired professional Indy Car and NASCAR driver who lives in Aspen, thought to herself before last year’s inaugural Grand Prix that it was going to be a flop in the United States. She spoke from her home in Aspen last week about Formula One’s challenges in America, which she admits might not be as tough as she previously thought.
She thinks tradition breeds race fans. While Calderon might laugh at nothing but left-turn racing, that’s the kind of racing Americans know and love.
“The United States grew up primarily with racing on oval tracks, very often on tracks that had been horse racing tracks,” Guthrie said. “Whereas in the rest of the world, the so-called road racing circuits predominated.”
Formula One does have a long and rich history in the United States, but until last year, the country hadn’t hosted a Formula One Grand Prix since Indianapolis in 2007. There hasn’t been an American driver in the sport since 2007, either, which is what Calderon attributes to the relative lack of American fans.
Auto racing in general is an extremely expensive sport to get into, Guthrie said, but Formula One is especially expensive. There’s just one American driver with promise right now for future success: Alexander Rossi, a reserve driver for the Caterham F1 team.
Anyone with paddock access who rubs elbows with the drivers and maybe even some of their supermodel girlfriends can see displays of wealth everywhere.
Another funny display of it was the time when former World Champion Kimi Raikkonen’s car retired during the 2006 Monaco Grand Prix and rather than walk back to the paddock, Raikkonen headed toward the harbor and boarded his yacht instead. (Raikkonen is having back surgery in Europe and did not make it to Austin this weekend.)
After walking around and seeing some of the drivers up-close, you start to wonder if there’s some unspoken law in the sport mandating that all of the drivers must be good-looking, too. There’s no crooked teeth or mullets here — these Formula One guys are like the perfect male specimens for the entire human race.
And while that might be the type of thing that gets women interested in the sport, it’s the sound of the cars that will really capture the hearts of new fans.
It has a buzz to it, like millions of bees swarming by your ears going a thousand miles per hour. It’s a much higher pitch than other race cars. The noise sends a vibration throughout your entire body.
“It’s unbelievable,” McNeill said. “I’m a huge car fan and I’ve got some nice cars, but they don’t sound like this.”