Clip #3: Rainy Racing and Texas Hills

The rain continued at COTA (Circuit of the Americas) on Saturday but didn’t drown out the race. Drivers simply switched to rain tires, turned on the wipers, and sped off anyway. Opened just outside Austin, TX in 2012, COTA is a 1500-acre complex featuring a 3.41-mile road track with 18 challenging turns, including an intimidating 133-foot climb at Turn 1. This was a customized truck race, but COTA has hosted all kinds of competition, including the US Grand Prix, the Pirelli World Challenge, and the IMSA Sportscar Championship. The complex also offers a large amphitheater appropriate for a city often referred to as the Live Music Capital of the World. Willie Nelson, Jimmy Buffet, Kanye West, Kenny Chesney, Drake, and Kelly Clarkson are among those who have taken the stage here.

Fortunately, Meredith and I didn’t watch this race from dripping, open-air grandstand seats or muddy RV porches in the infield, though both of us have done that more than once through the years. When we reached the spectator parking lot, we used umbrellas like shields to navigate torrents of rain and strong wind gusts until we located the VIP entrance and elevator to the sponsor’s third floor suite—quite the digs for a truck race. Open bar, Mexican buffet, mounted TV screens, comfortable indoor chairs, and a large canopy over several rows of outdoor seats. We were even supplied with noise-canceling headphones, very useful when we ventured outside to watch the cars roar by—and I do mean ROAR—below us. My son wasn’t seeking “front row competitive” status at COTA, but he enjoyed the thrill of the track and the atmosphere. With his truck repaired overnight, he ran the race without further mechanical issues.

Bobby and I bid Meredith and Roger goodbye in late afternoon and headed west with only intermittent showers on a gorgeous, non-Interstate drive through Texas hill country. Passing through Johnson City, founded in 1879 by LBJ’s uncle, we noticed that the main street was named—what else?—Lady Bird Lane. Speed limits ranged from 45 in “Texas German Belt” towns like Fredericksburg to 80 in open country. We encountered little traffic winding up hill and down, past wineries, a brewery or two, and numerous sheep ranches.

Much of this area, including Luckenbach (of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson fame), Bergheim, New Braunfels, and Fredericksburg, was founded by German immigrants early in the first half of the 19th century when Germany was basically a series of self-governing states. Texas was part of Mexico from 1821 until 1836 when it became the Republic of Texas before joining the United States in 1845.

It was pleasant early evening when we drove through Fredericksburg (named for the King of Prussia), where German heritage was obvious in architecture and business names. Downtown was thriving. Folks were out strolling and shopping, including one rather portly couple sipping beers as they sauntered on the sidewalk while their two children scampered around them. “Apparently that’s legal here,” said Bobby, “and I’d guess these two enjoy those beer strolls quite often.”

a downtown view in Fredericksburg

We’d had low cloud cover most of the way, but just before we stopped for the night, a tiny sliver of deep orange sunset peeked at us just above the horizon. When we arrived in Junction TX well after dark, the surroundings reminded me of an other-worldly settlement on some distant planet in a sci-fi movie. Lots of neon right where we were but deep darkness all around.

Mars or Junction, Texas?

As I settled in at the hotel, I plugged in phone and iPad to charge overnight and was amused as I thought back to road trips in the early days of cell phones and the Internet when finding enough outlets and USB ports often involved acrobatics or taking turns. In this room, I counted 15 electrical plugs not taken up by lamps and alarm clock and 9 USB ports in various locations. How tech has evolved.

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