Circuit of the Americas Closing Indefinitely, Staff Laid off

Is the announcement made over the weekend—that Circuit of the Americas, the road-racing track in Austin, Texas, would be closed indefinitely and has laid off staff—just an aberration, or is it the first shoe dropping?

The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has already cost COTA a MotoGP race and an IndyCar race, both of which were to have been run in April. MotoGP was rescheduled for Nov. 13-15, but IndyCar has canceled the AutoNation IndyCar Challenge, which was to run April 24-26.

“In the next 90 days alone,” track chairman Bobby Epstein told the Austin American-Statesman, “events representing nearly 600,000 ticketed visitors have been postponed, canceled or are in jeopardy.”

Those events, besides races, track days and driving experiences—there were nine booked in the next 90 days, including a ChampCar enduro and a Lexus Driving Academy—include United Soccer League games for the Austin Bold FC, as well as concerts held in an amphitheater located on the facility’s 1,500 acres. Among those concerts falling within the next 90 days: The Rolling Stones, Maroon 5, Alanis Morissette and The Strokes.

COTA is, of course, home to the country’s only Formula 1 race, scheduled for Oct. 23-25. Presumably COTA intends to host that race—according to the official closure statement, “It is our greatest hope that our community remains healthy and, when the virus passes, we reunite for many years of treasured moments with friends and family”—but if for some reason the track doesn’t answer the bell, there’s little doubt there would be an F1 race somewhere in Texas: The state kicks in about $25 million a year through the Major Events Reimbursement Program to fund F1, and any number of promoters would love to take that money to assemble a suitable street race in Houston or San Antonio, or even at Texas Motor Speedway. COTA’s F1 contract runs through 2021, but the deal with the state is not site-specific.

While COTA is the first racing facility to close, it seems entirely possible others may follow, especially if a new directive from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Sunday becomes a standard policy, voluntarily or involuntarily. Beginning today, events that could draw 50 or more people could be banned for the next eight weeks.

The actual wording of the CDC “guidance” memo: “CDC, in accordance with its guidance for large events and mass gatherings, recommends that for the next eight weeks, organizers (whether groups or individuals) cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 people or more throughout the United States.”

Eight weeks from today would be Monday, May 11. Including races that are already canceled or postponed, the NASCAR Cup Series would lose races at Atlanta, Homestead-Miami, Texas, Bristol, Richmond, Talladega, Dover and Martinsville, with—as the 2020 schedule now stands—competition resuming May 16 with the NASCAR All Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The NHRA would face postponement or cancellation of races at Gainesville, Las Vegas, Houston and Charlotte, with the first race falling after the May 11 CDC recommendation being the Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway May 15-17.

IndyCar could lose St. Petersburg, Barber, Long Beach, Circuit of the Americas and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course race. The Indianapolis 500, on May 24, would then be the start of the 2020 season.

Inarguably the hardest races to reschedule in any series are those on temporary street circuits, and IndyCar has formally canceled St. Petersburg and Long Beach.

Over the weekend, the St. Petersburg promoter, Green Savoree, made a point of quoting in a statement posted on that the language printed on the back of event tickets includes this: “I am not entitled to a refund, replacement ticket, or other event admission material, or to payment for any damages of any kind for any reason from IndyCar or GSSP or Andersen including, without limitation, lost/damaged ticket, cancellation, shortening, rescheduling, or other alteration of the event. All sales are final—no money refunded or exchanges.”

In other words, you won’t get any of your money back for tickets you bought for the St. Petersburg race. But the promoter is offering ticket holders the option of applying the money spent toward admission to the 2021 St. Petersburg race, or 110% of the money spent on St. Pete tickets to apply toward admission for IndyCar races at Mid-Ohio, Toronto or Portland. If you can’t make next year’s St. Petersburg race, or either of those other three races, you lose the money you spent on tickets for the 2020 St. Pete race.

Whether or not the promoters are refunding any of the money that sponsors spent on the 2020 St. Petersburg race is unclear.

While the impact of the shutdown may not sink most larger facilities, hundreds of small motorsports venues could find it a make-or-break situation. For example, multiple short tracks rely on major events to help them make it through a season.

An update regarding the MotoGP Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas:

The World of Outlaws sprint car series announced on March 13 that it was suspending its season until April 9. Even if that’s all the races that the traveling series drops, it will affect Cotton Bowl Speedway and Lone Star Speedway in Texas; USA Raceway and Arizona Speedway in Arizona; and Perris Auto Speedway, Santa Maria Raceway and Thunderbowl Raceway in California. Should the series continue its suspension through May 11, another nine tracks would lose a headline event.

Certainly, given the gravity and the human toll of the coronavirus pandemic, motorsports has to be well down the list of priorities. But given what we do here at, racing is an important part of our lives—and of many of our readers’ lives. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst: There’s no question racing is being dealt a brutal blow, and whether it can appropriately rebound will be a mirror of all that’s going on around us.

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