Is Sunday's F1 race weird enough for Austin, Texas?
By Corrie MacLaggan
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - As the Texas capital prepares to host the first Grand Prix in the United States in five years, some in laid-back Austin say this weekend's glamorous race clashes with the city's soul.
In this environmentally-conscious college town of 800,000, where the bumper stickers say "Keep Austin Weird" and there are no professional sports teams, there is widespread opposition to the Formula One race.
Some skeptics have come around, embracing the race and the sleek parties that come with it, while others are still shaking their heads over fears of clogged streets, noisy helicopter traffic and a negative impact on the environment, all for a ritzy event they say is simply un-Austin.
"Many opponents said that this is kind of the wrong image - frivolous emissions, carbon and other pollutants into the air just for amusement purposes - for a city that wants to be seen as the most sustainable city in the United States," said Tom Smith, director of the Texas office of Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group.
Officials at Circuit of the Americas, which owns the new racetrack, say they're working to minimize the environmental impact of the event and point out that F1 innovations lead to more efficient passenger cars.
Texas Comptroller Susan Combs touts the economic impact of the event, which she says will generate some $220 million for the state.
And many Austinites are thrilled about the race at the 3.4-mile (5.5 kilometer), $400 million track facility southeast of town, as well as a downtown fan festival and concerts by Aerosmith and Enrique Iglesias.
"It's just another thing that makes Austin weird," said Julie Loignon, a spokeswoman for Circuit of the Americas, adding that she often uses that line when people complain that F1 was too shiny, too chic for Austin, more of a Dallas-type thing. Continued...