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Volume 21 No. 2
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McCombs goes from novice to bullish on F1

‘The biggest challenge is to get the dogs to like the dog food’

Red McCombs had never been to a Formula One race before the U.S. Grand Prix came to Austin, Texas. It was a detail that many international journalists covering the event couldn’t understand — why would he invest millions to finance a racetrack for a sport he knew nothing about? On the day before the inaugural F1 race at the Circuit of the Americas, he spoke to SportsBusiness Journal staff writer Tripp Mickle and explained why he went from novice to bullish on F1 racing in the last year.

You said that you had a harder time convincing bankers to support this project than anything else you’ve pursued. Why?
It’s never worked [in the U.S.]. I can understand why bankers would do that. I had some reluctance with my own personal area of investors because they felt there was so much risk. I had to reach down to the 35- and 40-year-old guys. The old ones didn’t want any part of it.

Younger investors helped drive the venture, McCombs says.
Photo by: NEWSCOM
What is it that made you turn the corner and believe in this project?
The way I look at it, I don’t think it’s been very well promoted. I don’t want to tell other people the way to do their business, but I think as a spectator sport a lot of people don’t understand [it], and still they can’t live without it in these other markets in the world. I can’t believe a sports fan is that much different here than anywhere else.

If they are, then we have other avenues for the use of our facilities. We’ve got six major events signed. We’re going to operate 365. We don’t depend on Formula One. We think it will work very well.

What makes you so confident?
I think it will be a home run because with this you don’t have to have a facility where the cost of operating things like heat and air are so high, you don’t have that as much. We’re an open-air facility. It doesn’t cost a lot to build. It doesn’t cost a lot to operate.

When you look at our facility, very little of that is permanent. But all of those other areas — tent-like things — those are all temporary. But they have a permanent feel. If we find they work better down here than up there, we’ll just take them down and move them.

What’s the biggest challenge in your mind?
The biggest challenge is to get the dogs to like the dog food. We’ve got to do a better job of explaining to people how it works. What is the trials? What does it mean to have the best time circling the track? What does the grid mean? Our fans don’t know that.

Looking ahead to next year, what will need to happen to make this a success?
Well, next year, we’ve got NBC, so forget it. It’s a different ballgame. That’s a whole different ballgame. They like it. They know how big motorsports are. They paid a lot of money for it. They want to make it work. What you’re seeing right here is like an hors d’oeuvre.