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Steve Sexton – Former President of COTA – Dies at 57

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Steve Sexton – Former President of COTA – Dies at 57

The last time I saw Steve Sexton he was walking through Costco in South Austin. His family was with him, he was smiling broadly, and he looked to be having a good time even though his time at COTA had come to an end. I nodded to him as we passed in the aisle, and he smiled back, although I’m pretty sure he didn’t remember exactly who I was. But that didn’t matter…the smile was genuine. 

Steve Sexton – Former President of COTA

Steve Sexton – Former President of COTA

Sexton had come to Austin a few years earlier, to run the fledgling Circuit of the Americas, from Louisville, Kentucky, where he headed Churchill Downs. Churchill Downs, of course, is a facility known primarily for one race per year – the Kentucky Derby. And in that regard, Austin would not be much different. The Circuit of the Americas would be a purpose-built race track, the purpose being Formula One and the United States Grand Prix. There would be other races at COTA, of course, and eventually, ESPN would hold the summer X-Games at COTA for a couple seasons. COTA also become a concert venue. 

In retrospect, it isn’t that much of a stretch to think a guy who could run one race facility could run another, even if they were different sports. And it’s not like horse racing was that much more popular than Formula One racing. One big race a year was what both facilities had in common. 

entering-the-front-straight-construction-progress-of-circuit-of-the-americas-mid-may-2012

But Sexton faced a lot of resistance. Many people in Austin didn’t want a Formula One racetrack at all, and many people in the racing community thought COTA should be run by a motorsports professional. To say the least, it wasn’t an easy time for Sexton or Austin – plenty of negativity to go around.

Steve Sexton always envisioned COTA as a total entertainment facility. Most of us scoffed at that idea, of course, we saw racing as an end unto itself. 

Taylor Swift proved Steve Sexton’s vision was the accurate one. This year, along with the fifth running of the Formula One race at COTA, Taylor Swift brought her fans – zillions of ‘em – to COTA for a concert during the 2016 Formula One weekend. A new attendance record was set, due in no small part to the estimated 80,000 plus fans coming to see Taylor Swift. COTA had become an entertainment facility, after all, anchored by the only Formula One race currently in the United States. And that’s exactly what Steve Sexton had envisioned. 

In the end, though, what I’ll remember most about Steve Sexton was that despite all the turmoil over the building and opening of the Circuit of the Americas (and there was no shortage of turmoil) Steve Sexton was always professional and personable. He knew he had a job to do, and it wasn’t an easy job. Yet he did it with style and grace. And a smile. 

aerial-view-of-cota-front-straight-area-construction-progress-mid-may-2012

Alan Pease

Alan Pease is our Central Texas correspondent, covering city, county and state government, as well as all that's taking place at the Circuit of the Americas. Alan is a long time automotive and motorcycle industry professional, and covered the approval, development and opening of the Circuit of the Americas for Autoweek magazine. Prior to writing for Autoweek and txGarage Alan designed and executed over 350 individual press introductions, drive routes, and ride-and-drive events for BMW cars, BMW Motorcycles, MINI Cooper, Aston Martin, Jaguar Cars, and several General Motors divisions. Press introductions took him across the entire United States (including Alaska), as well as Canada and the United Kingdom. Alan also raced in the Inaugural Iron Butt Rallye, riding as a Factory Rider for BMW Motorcycles. He finished the 10 day, 10,000 mile solo rider race tied for 1st place. He lives in Austin, Texas, and can be reached by email at reachalanpease@gmail.com.

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