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Austin's Grand Prix lawsuit settled: Race day drama averted

Austin Photo: Author_kevin_benz

This day was clearly going to come. There was simply no way an $18 million dollar lawsuit could ever get in the way of a $300 million dollar racing circuit.

Sure, drama is good for newspaper stories and Tavo Hellmund's lawsuit delivered on that, but in the end no one wanted to go to court Monday and start testifying. That would be ugly and messy, and wealthy people prefer to simply pay their lawyers ungodly sums to make stuff like this go away. Ta-da!

 The settlement is sealed of course, so we won't know whether Hellmund's payout is closer to $18 million or to $0, but he will get some significant cash out of this as he should, although he also certainly will no longer be a shareholder in COTA. 

Both sides have been talking for a week about settling the case. Finally an agreement was reached on Friday afternoon and signed last night.

In this case, the lawyers certainly made ungodly sums after doing all of the posturing one might expect.

The drama between Tavo Hellmund, the man responsible for getting Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone, a close family friend, to even consider bringing a race here and Bobby Epstein, the man who made the money work and built the track, is well documented. Epstein is chairman and co-founder of COTA.

Last fall, Hellmund fell out of favor, and disappeared from the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) inner circle. The break-up was ugly and dramatic and nearly killed Austin's shot at hosting the United States Grand Prix.

After some initial hemming and hawing, Hellmund and his company, Full Throttle Productions, filed a lawsuit claiming he was owed $18 million dollars as a payout for leaving COTA. COTA on the other hand claimed Hellmund pretty much stopped showing up for work and began trying to get inside of a new competing New York Formula 1 race. Further, COTA claimed none of it mattered anyway because any claim needed to be worked out in arbitration, not in the courts.

Both sides prepared for a two-day court hearing on Monday, June 11. Anyone who follows legal wrangling like this knew that hearing would be unlikely, and here we are.

The settlement is sealed of course, so we won't know whether Hellmund's payout is closer to $18 million or to $0, but he will get some significant cash out of this as he should, although he also certainly will no longer be a shareholder in COTA. It was Hellmund who brought the Formula 1 vision to Austin, even if he's not the guy who eventually made it happen. 

That distinction belongs to Epstein, Red McCombs and newly-added investor John Paul Dejoria (of Paul Mitchell and Patron Tequila). Dejoria is a player. He has ties to motor sports, his daughter is a drag racer and he knows marketing and promotion — he might be the best in the world at it. He also brings really, really deep pockets and, of course, tequila. Any guess what brand tequila Bernie and the boys will be drinking in the suite?

There is more to come from COTA as they begin ramping up their promotional efforts to get tickets sold beginning Sunday, June 10 in anticipation of the race November 18, 2012.

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