"Start your engines!" Minister of Culture Matthew McConaughey started the race in his signature twang as the grand marshal for Austin's first NASCAR race at Circuit of the Americas on Sunday.
The race ended prematurely due to the rain, but the historic event still made an impact on thousands of Austinites and sports fans from around the country.
With low visibility and excess water on the track, drivers had a hard time keeping control in COTA's first NASCAR race. Two crashes marred the first two stages, and a collision between Cole Custer and Martin Truex Jr. had a fiery end as Custer's front end temporarily went up in flames. Both were unhurt, but officials could no longer ignore the rain.
A red flag was flown into the stormy air, and Austin's first race was delayed in the second stage.
A huge and frightening hit for Cole Custer and Martin Truex Jr. at Circuit of The Americas. pic.twitter.com/dGmCoXQPx6
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) May 23, 2021
As the rain died down, drivers tried to finish the race, but another red flag meant Chase Elliott was the de facto winner of the race.
Even with a less-than-ideal finish, the race was still an unforgettable experience for a range of characters, from locals to travelers from around the country. The sea of cars in the parking lot were dotted with out-of-state license plates. One family that was camping comfortably on the course lawn said they came in from California.
Thomas Revoir and Benjamin Marshall, wearing just overalls and red-white-and-blue bandannas, were coming from North Carolina, but COTA was just a pit stop as they continued a cross-country road trip.
Revoir and Marshall said they were unhappy with the race being called early because "as Americans we don't fear rain."
Meanwhile, locals embraced a new location much closer to home than Dallas' Texas Motor Speedway. The venue has already hosted Formula One races in the past, but Seguin resident Chris Luna said that NASCAR was different.
For Luna and his crew, the race at COTA was more than just a convenience. After his good friend died last month, Luna and his friends decided to go to the race in his honor.
"He used to be the ringleader for us," Luna said. "He had everything for us, tickets and stuff. But we're coming... because he was NASCAR all the way."
Chris Luna (left) and crew came to the race in honor of their friend who recently passed. (Claire Partain/Austonia)
Even those working the event were excited to see so many in the stands as businesses begin to recover from COVID.
Four women dressed in flaming denim stood out from the crowd. The COTA Girls, who take pictures with fans and work to hype up the stands, said they were happy to be back at work.
On the team, Holly Wood said that the girls usually hype up Formula One races but came to the NASCAR event to get people back into the groove of racing events.
"We're just looking to... get people excited because nobody was out here for a long time," Wood said.
The COTA Girls, dressed in flames, helpe dkeep the crowd lively at the race. (Claire Partain/Austonia)
Food trucks lined the back of the stadium, many of them Austin businesses. Wes Tinsley, co-owner of Quesadillo ATX, said he was grateful to be asked to provide food after a hard year.
"A lot (of businesses) had to shut down but we were fortunate enough to stay afloat, and i hope that this will bring some business for us," Tinsley said. "We're excited to be here and be a part of it for the first time, and hopefully we get a chance to do this again."
The race is part of an explosion of professional sports coming to Austin as it gains recognition and a "boomtown" status. Del and crew sat atop the bleachers of Austin Bold FC, the city's semipro soccer team, to watch the race. Meanwhile, Ray wore a shirt honoring Austin FC, Austin's first professional team of any kind, at the race.
Ray was double-booked for the evening. Directly after catching an adrenaline rush at COTA, he planned on heading to Jack and Ginger's for Austin FC's official watch party.
While the race ended, almost literally, in flames, Austin's enthusiasm at COTA's first NASCAR race proves that there's a hunger for more sports at Austin's premier racing venue.
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Austin's Delta 8 industry has been turned on its head after Texas health officials clarified that the cannabinoid is on the state list of illegal substances, though it was previously believed to be legal by most retailers, consumers and manufacturers.
House Bill 1325, which was signed in June 2019 by Gov. Greg Abbott, and the Farm Bill, signed into law by former President Donald Trump in 2018, legalized any hemp product containing less than .3% THC. The same bills were thought to have made Delta 8 legal, though the Texas Department of State Health Services added a notice on its website saying it was still a controlled substance as of Friday, Oct. 15.
Both the federal and state governments keep separate lists on what is considered a controlled substance. Marijuana is considered Schedule I, a category reserved for substances with "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," both statewide and federally.
Austin-based CBD retailer Grassroots Harvest CEO Kemal Whyte, like many CBD shop retailers, was blindsided by the announcement. Many small businesses rely on Delta 8 for their sales—Green Herbal Care CBD said about 90% of its sales come from Delta 8—and Whyte said he is frustrated by the inconsistencies in the drug scheduling system.
Since 87% of Texans support the legalization of marijuana, at least for medical use, per a recent poll, Whyte said he wonders who this legislation is for.
"It's gonna have a massive impact on small businesses—there's just no way around it," Whyte said. "The reality is, we don't want to push out anything bad for our customers, we want this to benefit our customers and to help them. If we can make money while doing it, that's the American dream. What are we doing, whose benefit is this for?"
Delta 8 surged in popularity after the perceived legalization—consumers enjoyed its lower psychotropic potency, decreased anxiety while using it and the peace of mind as a legal way to get high. So in order to protect their products and livelihoods, both Grassroots Harvest and Austin-based manufacturer Hometown Heroes are taking legal action.
Whyte said Grassroots Harvest is suing DSHS, saying their action is creating negative effects in the market. Meanwhile, a Hometown Heroes spokesperson said the company is in the process of filing a temporary restraining order that would pause the ban on Delta-8 in the state of Texas.
Threats against Delta 8 are not new—DSHS lost a lawsuit trying to make "smokable hemp products" illegal last year and Texas lawmakers had been considering a bill that would make Delta 8 illegal, though it was dropped after the clarification was made.
Hometown Heroes released a formal statement in response to the DSHS rule.
"I need to be clear—we love Texas, we're just choosing to fight for the will of the people in regards to cannabis in Texas," Hometown Hero CEO Lukas Gilkey said in a statement. "(Texas DSHS) are using backhanded ways to create legislation and go against the will of the people."
Whyte laments the fact that it would be easier legally to "open up a strip club that also sells guns," and said he can't post customer testimonials that mention the benefits of Delta 8 without getting hit with a cease and desist from the Food and Drug Administration. Whyte said he isn't opposed to regulation—far from it—he just wants to see it go through the correct channels.
"The fact that they're stunting our ability to communicate with our clients that want to learn about this, you're preventing us from communicating with them and teaching them, or spreading information that we know," Whyte said. "I think that that in and of itself opens up a lot of questions."
Grassroots Harvest still has Delta 8 products on its shelves for the time being but for how long, Whyte doesn't know.
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Austin Public Health and other clinics around Austin are now providing booster shots for all three vaccines, including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, to fully vaccinated individuals after both Pfizer and J & J were approved by the CDC on Wednesday.
APH and Austin clinics, which were already administering the approved Pfizer booster, will begin distributing shots as soon as Friday.
Those who received the second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine more than six months ago are elligble to receive a booster if they are over 65 or if they are over 18 and:
- Live in a long-term care environment
- Have underlying medical conditions
- Work or live in high-risk settings, such as schools, hospitals or correctional facilities
Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said in a media Q&A Friday that APH is encouraging boosters just as much as they have urged residents to get their first and second doses.
"Boosters are incredibly important to keeping our community protected and hospitalizations low," Walkes said. "If we can stay on top of our vaccinations, we provide protections for our most vulnerable and make it that much harder for COVID to spread in our community."
Eligible residents are free to choose the same booster as their first doses or "mix and match," per the CDC announcement.
Those looking for another dose can simply bring their vaccination card to APH centers or the dozens of Walgreens and CVS locations in the metro, which began administering doses Friday.
Additional updated guidance from the CDC allows for all eligible individuals to choose which vaccine they receive as a "mix-and-match" booster dose. It is advised to remember to bring your CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Card showing the original doses with you when going for booster shots.
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