Whether you’re heading out to the Circuit of the Americas today or waiting until Sunday's big races, chances are pretty good that you’ll be one of tens of thousands of people looking to quench your thirst or fill your belly. Not many people think too much about where all the booze and food comes from, but it’s important to recognize the monumental effort behind the scenes to make sure you have plenty of beer in your hand during Grand Prix Weekend.
It’s a major responsibility for Chris Adams, acting as resident district manager for Sodexo, a French multinational corporation specializing in food services and facility management. Due to the hard work of Adams and his massive team, racing fans will be able to stay fueled throughout the entire weekend of events. The Circuit of the Americas has to service nearly 120,000 people when at maximum capacity, and planning for the upcoming weekend started before the end of the inaugural U.S. Grand Prix in 2012.
"Here, with the international fan base, we’re catering to a fan that’s not self-sufficient like in NASCAR.” — F1 concessions manager Chris Adams
That first grand prix taught Adams and other organizers many lessons, and year two should be pretty smooth, mostly because there’s less of a rush. “Last year, with the construction phase, it all kind of came together at the last minute,” says Adams. “With the other races that we had here — the Grand Am, MotoGP, Le Mans, etc. — we were able to fine-tune our plans as we went along, and definitely with customer traffic patterns, what gates they're going through and areas that they’re frequenting more often will give us the ability to take the overall layout of the track and pinpoint where those main hot points will be.”
With a racing event like MotoGP being half the size of Formula One, planning has to scale up considerably, with notice months in advance of quantity and types of needed goods. Adams says that their pop-up base of operations at the track first started receiving products back in mid-October. On a slow day, about six full semi trucks would come to the track, but as the F1 weekend neared, the number was closer to 50 coming.
Having worked NASCAR events at Fort Worth's Texas Motor Speedway, Adams has experience with such massive undertakings, but concessions at COTA work differently. “[At Texas Motor Speedway], fans can bring in their own coolers, so while your concessions operation is still on a large scale, you don’t have as many points of sale, because people are bringing in their own. Here, with the international fan base, we’re catering to a fan that’s not self-sufficient like in NASCAR.”
“We make sure to source specific Austin and Texas vendors to give [visitors] a local taste,” says Adams.
Last year, over 2.2 million pounds of ice were needed to keep drinks cool and refreshing, and that number will likely go up this year. More than 300 points of sale have been added around the track to increase options and keep customers happy over the three days.
The track is also committed to enlisting local vendors in its operations, whether it’s Johnny T’s BBQ in Round Rock, Pok-e-Jo’s or La Condesa. “When people from Italy come here, they don’t want Italian food, so we make sure to source specific Austin and Texas vendors to give them a local taste,” says Adams.
Sodexo looks to local vendors and nonprofits to provide the 3,000-strong workforce that staffs food and drink stands. After last year’s F1 race, more than $142,000 was given back to local nonprofits, and in the year since the last race, over $400,000 from various other race events and concerts has been similarly donated. All appropriate unsold food is sent to Austin-area food banks after the event, with over 900,00 pounds of food donated after last year.
Once the race is over and everything is packed up, Adams says, this planning and preparation model will be used for next year's large-scale sporting events, including MotoGP in April and the Austin X Games. It’s a ton of work to keep thousands comfortable during race weekend, so be sure to make a toast or two to the folks who help keep you going at Circuit of the Americas.