With a huge round of applause, construction workers and VIPs stood together watching a 15-foot evergreen tree swing into place atop the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) pit building.
The "topping off" ceremony, a commercial construction tradition for good luck, meant more than just the completion of a concrete shell. After six months of questions, this ceremony marks an answer. "There have been lots of questions about whether we can finish this project on time. We're going to get this done," said William McAdoo, the Senior VP of Austin Commercial, the construction contractor to extended applause.
Back in January, CultureMap reported on the concerns about whether the circuit could be completed in time for the the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) to approve it via inspection and certify it fit for competition. That inspection is likely to happen in late August, about 90 days before the November 18 United States Grand Prix. McAdoo is certain it will be ready and seen from the ground, it's hard to argue.
The hour-long ceremony featured all of the main COTA players, well except one. Tavo Helmund was not on hand on a day that also featured a news report that Hellmund, an original but now former partner in the effort, was threatening to buy out another partner, Red McCombs.
McCombs sounded nothing like a partner ready to leave. When asked about the issue he answered quite simply, "That's a legal issue so I'll leave it at that, but I have every intention of being here." Bobby Epstein, the lead partner told me "there are certainly differences of opinion that haven't been reported." In other words, McCombs isn't going anywhere as badly as Tavo Helmund might want back in.
For the most part, none of the speakers — including the new guy and latest partner, John Paul DeJoria of Paul Mitchell and Patron tequila fame — backed away from admitting there had been challenges. Neither were they anything but sure that construction was on the fast track with two shifts of workers keeping construction rolling.
"There have been a lot of challenges in this project, and there will be other challenges," said McCombs. "We’ve met them up to now and I have every reason to believe that we will continue to meet them. You can be proud of what you have here because this truly is for all of the people of Austin and Central Texas."
"This building was built for one group for two weeks, but for us, it's being built for fifty weeks," added Epstein as he touted the economic benefits expected to come from the track. "F1 is one component. F1 is an opportunity. We have an opportunity to show the world what a great place we live in. But we also have a chance to bring hundreds of millions of dollars into our state’s economy."
State Senator Judith Zaffirini agreed, suggesting the Formula 1 race alone is estimated to bring $400 million to the state's economy along with hundreds of permanent and thousands of temporary jobs.
This day was a day for the workers, and a day for the partners to celebrate their "heroic" work, as Epstein called it. The transformation has indeed been amazing and one can easily get a sense of what this place will be like when full of 120,000 fans following the screaming F1 cars around one of the world's great circuits.
As a last testament to the latest success of the project, McCombs said sales of suites and personal seat licenses are running 100 percent above projections. Yes, people really do want to see fast cars run on that track in Austin, Texas, and it looks like they will have the chance soon.