Has the US Grand Prix Finally Found a Home in Austin?

Matthew WalthertFeatured ColumnistNovember 15, 2013

Matthew Walthert

Grand prix racing is synonymous with locations like Monza, Spa and Silverstone. Phoenix, Las Vegas and Detroit—not so much.  Yet these are a few of the many former homes of Formula One in the United States.

This weekend, F1 makes its second visit to Austin, Texas.  The question is: After wandering around the country for more than 50 years, has the United States Grand Prix (USGP) finally found a home in the desert?

The pieces all seem to be in place for Austin to become the home of F1 in America: a long-term contract; a beautiful, exciting new circuit; close proximity not only to all of Texas' big cities, but also to F1-starved fans in Mexico, who have been without a home race since 1992.

Packed grandstands at the 2012 USGP.
Packed grandstands at the 2012 USGP.Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The inaugural race in Austin was a huge success.  With The New York Times reporting that nearly 120,000 fans flocked to the Circuit of the Americas, there is clearly an appetite for F1 in the U.S.  Though really, with a population of over 300 million and the aforementioned proximity to 120 million more people in Mexico, finding 100,000 F1 fans should not be too difficult.

Overall, the sport still occupies a small niche in the American market.  For instance, according to Autoweektotal viewership numbers fell in the U.S. for the 2012 season, despite the return of the USGP.  Even a new deal with NBC for the 2013 season may not be the answer.  Only four of 19 races will air on NBC; the rest are shown on NBC Sports Network or CNBC, channels with a much smaller reach.

A permanent home for the USGP should help, though.  Stability will allow Formula One Management and the race organizers to focus on building the racing series' brand in the US, rather than worrying if or where the next race will take place.  And if the long-discussed race in New Jersey ever gets the green light, it will only provide further exposure.

Sebastian Vettel at the proposed Port Imperial Street Circuit in New Jersey.
Sebastian Vettel at the proposed Port Imperial Street Circuit in New Jersey.Mike Stobe/Getty Images

A race in New Jersey, across the Hudson River from Manhattan, would also move the sport closer to its American roots in Watkins Glen, New York.

The Glen, nestled in New York's picturesque Finger Lakes region, not far from the Pennsylvania border, hosted the USGP for 20 years between 1961 and 1980.  It was a popular track, but safety issues and the track owners' failure to pay the teams following the 1980 race led F1 to search for a new American home.

It has taken over 30 years, but hopefully, finally, the search is finished.

Follow Matthew Walthert on Twitter @TheParadeLapF1