2021 Cota
Mark Thompson | Getty Images

Welcome to Austin: How SMI helped COTA prepare for its NASCAR debut

In order to get the Circuit of The Americas on NASCAR’s 2021 schedule, Speedway Motorsports Inc. went old school with its approach.

Marcus Smith, CEO and president of SMI, already had a connection at COTA through its chairman, Bobby Epstein, well before talks of NASCAR running in the Austin, Texas, market even began. Therefore, when the sanctioning body did express interest in adding new road courses to its track roster, Smith tapped into that relationship and pitched an idea he learned from his father. SMI could lease the COTA facility for a NASCAR race weekend.

All parties involved obviously came to an agreement considering COTA is indeed set to host all three NASCAR national series for the first time ever with this Saturday’s Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series doubleheader (1 p.m. and 4 p.m. ET, FS1) and Sunday’s Cup race (2:30 p.m. ET, FS1) with the help of SMI.

RELATED: Full COTA race weekend schedule

“That’s how the chairman, Bruton Smith, used to do it,” SMI chief strategy officer Mike Burch told NASCAR.com. “You’d go out and you had people who owned facilities but maybe weren’t great promoters and you had people who were great promoters but didn’t own facilities. It’s only been in the modern age where the promoters have also been the facility owners.”

SMI, for example, owns and operates eight tracks that host NASCAR events: Atlanta Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kentucky Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Sonoma Raceway and Texas Motor Speedway.

COTA, meanwhile, has regularly welcomed Formula 1, IMSA and MotoGP – along with big-name concerts and other sports championships.

Quite simply: SMI has NASCAR experience. COTA has marquee-event experience. The two are now combining their strengths for a 2021 marquee NASCAR event.

“It’s a mutual exchange of bag; it’s not just we’re paying them,” Burch said. “Like you’re renting out a hall for a wedding. There’s multiple revenue streams – there’s food and beverage, there’s hospitality, there’s sponsorship – so we had to work out an arrangement. Who gets what? They’re providing box-office services, so how do they get compensated for the staff and the expertise they’re providing?

“We set up a lease that gives everyone an incentive to perform well, and if we all perform well, we all share in the results from a prestige status point of view as well as a financial point of view.”

Like any lease, the paperwork is long and detailed. Negotiations had to take place. And not just between SMI and COTA, but also add in NASCAR.

RELATED: NASCAR to run long course at COTA

SMI had to sacrifice one of its two Cup Series points-paying races at Texas for COTA. In return, though, Texas was given NASCAR’s All-Star Race in June. That exhibition loophole keeps Texas’ oval weekend total technically the same.

“To be able to go to COTA, we did not want it to come at the expense of Texas,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer, at the time of the 2021 schedule release. “The ability for us to bring the All-Star Race to Texas, and also have a race at COTA was a home run. When that idea was brought to us, we felt like this is the best of both worlds.”

It really has been a collaborative effort among folks from COTA, SMI and NASCAR. All three entities were responsible for getting the facility ready from a competitive and hospitality standpoint. Changes had to be made on both fronts – like safety precautions on and off the track – but each group shared its intel to come up with the most successful practices.

The entire process has been an old-school tactic revamped.

“Nothing worth having is easy,” Burch said. “A lot of people have put in a lot of hard work. … A lot has gone into this. Hopefully, it’ll be a great event and be the first of many there at the Circuit of The Americas.”