A farewell to Austin’s (not-so) secret race track, with the man who made it happen
Flinging the Ferrari around The Driveway on a dull December day, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I missed every apex on the short course (a miniature version of Italy’s Fiorano circuit). I hit the brakes and the gas too early and too late. After one lap, track owner Bill Dollahite reached over and turned the steering wheel for me. In my defense, the 458 is too much car for a novice negotiating a small, highly technical track. Not that it matters anymore . . .
After sixteen years playing host to everything from go-carts to F1 cars, providing racing licenses, offering police, executive protection and teenage driving courses, giving video producers a closed set for automotive action, Austin’s in-town race track is no more. Owner Bill Dollahite cut a deal with software giant Oracle and the City of Austin to add The Driveway to the parklands surrounding the site. Oracle gets to build on nine previously protected acres next to its Austin campus. The city gets The Driveway and its surrounds for bicyclists and nature lovers.
It’s hard to feel sorry for a man banking tens of millions of dollars as he approaches his seventieth year. But not impossible. Listening to Dollahite describe the endless battles with bureaucrats determined to keep pistonheads from indulging their need for speed four miles from the city center, hearing him describe the famous drivers and celebrities he’s instructed in his personal fiefdom, it’s clear that Dollahite’s walking away from his life’s work.
After, that is, one hundred racing victories behind the wheel of Ferraris, Porsches, and others, racking-up 14 championship titles. Yeah, the guy can drive. I have no doubt that Bill Dollahite could circumnavigate The Driveway with his eyes closed – as evidenced by his party trick of blasting a beat-up police car around the track backwards. About that beat-up bit . . .
The Driveway owes its name to the day he told a city official to ignore the smoking tires on go-karts ripping around the track. “See that house over there? It’s a driveway!”
The dilapidated house in question was joined by a none-too-spiffy double-wide. In fact, The Driveway resembles Porsche’s ultra-modern driving experience like a ’71 Ford Pinto resembles a modern 911. You need only see Dollahite’s fiberglass Shelby Can-Am car decomposing in the open air or the non-functional Toyota NASCAR rusting by the track to know that Dollahite cared less for appearances than, say, about my Ferrari’s tire pressure.
The soon-to-be-extinct shambolic vibe highlights Dollahite’s single-minded focus on driving and explains his mid-40’s career change. “I was winning for Ferrari in their 333 SP when Audi showed up with their R8,” he relates. “No one was going to beat them. Ferrari quit. Nothing was going to get any better, so I thought I better go build a track. What else could I do?”
Only anything else. But the project of converting a former strip mine filled with rock and concrete into a petrol-scented playground – against the wishes of Austin’s left-leaning politicians – suited Dollahite’s stubborn nature. “You can be 10 places down in a race and you don’t quit,” he insists.
Dollahite’s particularly proud of The Driveway’s surface. “We tried five different formulations for grip and feel. We ended up with 72 percent sandstone with limestone, granite and dolomite on a 7622 broad spectrum binder with three percent polymer. When they built COTA (Circuit of the Americas), they used a similar mix.”
Knowing how government works, I doubt Austin will be bothered to tear up the track. Maintain? Not likely – unless bicyclists band together to pressure the pols. The Driveway will become another ghost track, and a fond memory for the thousands of drivers who honed their skills on its not excessively safe parameters. No more so than for Dollahite, the man who was King of All He Surveyed for nearly two decades. “It’s what I am, it’s who I am,” he admitted before jumping into the 458 with my cigar buddy and biz partner.
As I watched Dollahite usher Mo around The Driveway to the sound of the Ferrari’s engine wailing and its tires fighting for purchase, I was struck with a single, familiar thought: life is a grieving process. We spend our whole life losing things: our youth, our friends, our dreams. You can sense Dollahite’s wistful nostalgia for what’s now in his rear view mirror by reading The Driveway’s website goodbye.
“Thank you for all the years we have shared to make us what we were,” it announces, “and hopefully remembered.” For now, yes. As the years pass, not so much. A reminder that we are all on a race against time. That our victories are temporary. Which, if you think about it, only makes them sweeter.