United States Gran Prix 2016

Leaving the airport we flew right overtop the track which was awesome.
Leaving the airport we flew right over top the track which was awesome.

It has been five years since I last was in Austin for the return of Formula 1  to the US in 2012.  Let me tell you it’s good to be back. This time around Jeremy and I planned it out much better then the first trip and we also had a bigger budget. This time I flew into Austin and we stayed at the Marriott. No 24 hour driving marathon and staying with AirBnB this time.

My flight was a little delayed which sucked but since I had no checked baggage I walked off the plane and right into Jeremy’s car to drive directly to the track. We missed FP1 but caught the rest of the day’s track activities without issue. I must say I was very impressed with the track upgrades since we first attended the inaugural Grand Prix. That first year was all about getting the track ready for racing, since then they have been improving the fan experience. Traffic in and out was better, a lot more paved lots closer to the track, new stands, new walkways and the amphitheater was completed this time around.

Just like the first time around, Friday and Saturday we walked the track for different viewing angles for the various race events. Most of the time we would scope out an area, fire up a couple cigars and just enjoy the cars from whatever stand or hillside we thought was good.

Turn 9
Turn 9

Quals ended up kinda like we expected with Mercedes one and two. Hamilton took pole with Rosberg second and Ricciardo third. This was how they finished the race as well. While I didn’t want either Merc to win, it was nice seeing Hamilton finish ahead of Rosberg, narrowing the gap between them and statistically keeping Hamilton in the hunt for a fourth world championship. Another surprising drive was from Honda. Button I think qualified 19 and Alanso only a little better at 17 or 16. By the end of the race both were able to score points with Alanso 7th and Button 9th. They have struggled all year so having both drivers not only finishing but score points was pretty amazing. Our “official” seats were at turn 15 so we were able to catch probably 85-90% of all the passing, right there in front of us. Just amazing seats.

Austin Beer Garden Brewing
Austin Beer Garden Brewing

Our activities were not limited to just the track this time around. I spent and extra day in Austin to allow us more time for activities and not cram it all into a short amount of time. The race activities usually finish in the late afternoon so our nights were totally open to new adventures. Friday we had a great steak dinner at Bob’s Steak & Chop House right in downtown. We choose this place because of the rooftop bar that allows smoking. Unfortunately once we finished dinner the roof bar was smashed with people so no smoking for us. We instead hit Habana House Cigars across the river, really nice shop on the south of town to relax and decompress after our first day at the track.

Saturday Taylor Swift was the post race entertainment but we decided to skip it. All day we kept seeing Swifties walking around. I think half were there to enjoy the race but many were clearly there just for Taylor. We saw people lining up at the entrance to the field as soon as we arrived to the track. This was around 9:30 in the morning and the show probably didn’t start till 7 or later. That’s some dedication. Again, not a fan but I was impressed with the crowd she drew. It was estimated at 80+ thousand people, incredible.

Let me tell you its  a hike from turn 20 to the top of turn 1.
Let me tell you its a hike from turn 20 to the top of turn 1.

Instead of seeing Taylor we went to the Austin Beer Garden Brewery. You know me, always gotta hit a brewery when I travel. I was particularly excited to go here as it won Best Large Brewpub Brewer of the Year at this years Great American Beer Festival in Denver. This place really is modeled after a German beer hall with bench seating all over the place. The outside beer garden was truly amazing as well. When we arrived it was smashed with people which is always a good sign. I ended up trying three of their beers and bought a bottle for the following night. Just a great atmosphere and beer. Probably 7 regular taps and only one seasonal available but all pretty solid.

After the beer garden we headed downtown. We hit Stubb’s BBQ which was great before heading to FanFest. The brisket here was amazing but the service was horrible. Despite that I would still go back again. If you like bar hoping then FanFest is your place. For Jeremy and I it was rather boring. Maybe because it was late, I don’t know, they just didn’t have much we were interested in so we walked the few blocks roped off for FanFest and then went back to the hotel to enjoy a cigar night cap.

Whats left of my Avo Domaine cigar before the User and The Roots after the race.
Whats left of my Avo Domaine cigar before the Usher and The Roots after the race.

Race day and what a day it turned out to be.  The crowds all weekend I thought were pretty impressive but on race day you can throw all that out the window.  The track was a lively place as fans poured in to see the fight between Hamilton and Rosberg.  It was just a magical day watching the race and we had some really good seats.  After the race we stayed to watch User and The Roots.  It was going to be a made house getting out and we had no place to go on Monday so we stuck around for the concert. Usher I didn’t care much for but The Roots threw down let me tell you.  They opened the set with about 4 songs and ended the set as well.  What a great job considering The Weekend was originally schedule and backed out with less then two weeks before race day.

Monday was nothing but a lounge day. I wanted to spend at least one extra day in the city to really get a feeling for it. We ended up heading to  Canyon Lake for a hike which was nice. We tried to hike Emerald Point but the park was closed for a public hunt. Not wanting to get shot we headed to Canyon Lake instead. After he hike we continued to Jeremy’s house for dinner with his mother. I hadn’t seen her in a long time so it was nice to catch up with her. We went to dinner that night and afterwards we sat in the pouch talking. Jeremy and I smoked a couple Cuban Hoyo de Monterrey Especial Epicures which were great. I cracked open the saison I got from ABGB which Janet helped me finish and we just talked. It is so peaceful out that far in the country. I was hoping to catch the stars but it was pretty overcast that night. They tell me you can see so many stars out there when it is a clear night.

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With the trip almost over Tuesday was really just a day to at catch up. We stopped at Wright Bros. Brew and Brew for some coffee and a bottle of beer. We planned on going to Heroes & Legacies on the north part of town and this being Texas, its BYOB. Jeremy caught up with his account and I was able to get a little writing done. Great place to sit, relax and smoke. The lounge is outta sight here. There is a membership fee but it’s worth the price if you want to really relax and enjoy a cigar. It was after three before we left there for the airport. Since I was not checking baggage and had an e-ticket, I breezed right through security to my gate.

Vacations never seem to be long enough. This was another great Formula 1 trip and I look forward to coming back in 2017. Austin really knows how to throw down and make a great race experience for the fans. There are still a few breweries I want to hit in the area and I can always spend time at the numerous cigar lounges around town. I think next year we might try to do a few more cultural things in addition to our normal activities.