STEPHEN HAWKINS, AP Sports Writer
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Stock cars in Cowtown or technologically advanced open-wheel cars in trendy Austin. Beer or champagne.
Deep in the heart of Texas on Sunday, NASCAR and Formula One both will have races going on at the same time. The scenes are drastically different.
The eighth of 10 races in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship will wrap up a NASCAR weekend tripleheader at Texas Motor Speedway, which has been hosting that series since opening in 1997. This will be the third U.S. Grand Prix at Circuit of Americas, the first going head-to-head against a race a three-hour drive away in Fort Worth.
At Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday, fans of Dale Earnhardt Jr. lined up at one of his merchandise haulers, many buying $25 T-shirts marking the victory by NASCAR’s most popular driver at Martinsville just a week ago. There are plenty of different designs of T-shirts and caps to be had for $20 or $25.
At the Circuit of the Americas, fans bought $50 caps while a shirt with F1 driver Lewis Hamilton’s name across the front was marked for $70. But they could pay $20 to go to the top of a 250-foot observation tower, where they could sip champagne.
Liza Reker and Beth Haney, friends from California, strutted around the fan areas at the F1 race wearing white tank tops with the word “BORING” emblazoned across the front in a fake NASCAR logo.
“Doesn’t that say it all?” said Reker, who attended her first F1 race.
“(F1) is definitely more exciting,” said Haney, who has attended Formula One races around the world. “This is so much better. I like cars that go left AND right.”
But general fan access to drivers and their team garages is limited at F1, where the paddock is essentially a VIP area catering to celebrities and some of the wealthiest people in the world. Movie mogul George Lucas, musician Sting and Mexican business magnate Carlos Slim are among those sighted in the Austin paddock the last three years.
Fans with garage passes at NASCAR mingle around the crews and the cars, getting a chance to snag autographs from their favorite drivers. Or maybe a selfie with popular driver Carl Edwards at the same time he is doing a television interview.
Circuit of the Americas chairman Bobby Epstein, who anticipates an F1 race crowd of around 100,000 believes the “overlap between the Cowboy game in Dallas and a NASCAR event is much greater than the overlap between the Formula One Grand Prix in Austin and a NASCAR race 240 miles away.”
The Dallas Cowboys, who usually have about 90,000 fans, play at home Sunday against Arizona.
About 138,000 people attended the NASCAR race at Texas last fall, and a similar crowd is expected Sunday.
TMS president Eddie Gossage said he hasn’t thought much about the F1 race in Austin, which he attended last year when it wasn’t at the same time his track was hosting a race. But he called the scheduling conflict “a shot” at NASCAR by Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone.
“It does divide things, and my theory on that is, is that whether it’s split in half 50-50, or 99 and 1, whichever direction it goes, it’s still less than 100 percent,” Gossage said. “I don’t think there’s a lot, but there’s overlap (in fans). I do resent the folks in Austin that there’s is an international event, and ours is local.”
Gossage said tickets to Sunday’s race were sold in all 50 states and nine foreign countries and providences around the world.
“That’s not a local event,” he said.
Rick Moss, a fan of six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, and his wife, Linda, are regular attenders of NASCAR races at Texas, and they strolled through the row of merchandise haulers Saturday. The couple is from Davenport, Iowa, more than 900 miles away, and they have also been to Las Vegas, Chicago, Sonoma and Talladega for races.
Clay Phillips, a 37-year-old Austinite who has a seat license at the track said he’s an F1 fan because, “It’s the fastest cars and the best racers in the world.”
Did he consider going to Fort Worth for NASCAR?
“Absolutely not,” he said. “It’s total garbage. It’s WWE on wheels.”
AP Sports Writer Jim Vertuno contributed to this report from Austin, Texas.