Tiny town get­ting in gear for a wild For­mula One ride

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - JOHN KELSO

EL­ROY — This ain’t Monaco. F1 rac­ing out here? Are you kid­ding? Maybe an F1 tor­nado.

As you drive into this tiny, ru­ral town 15 miles south­east of down­town Austin, you won’t see any zippy, lowslung for­eign sports cars. In­stead, you pass by five ag­ing pick­ups loung­ing in a field, wait­ing for buy­ers; a cou­ple of fire­works stands; cows; and a house with a sign out front ad­ver­tis­ing menudo.

So they’re fix­ing to build an at least $200 mil­lion For- mula One race­track nearby, huh? Some folks here might think For­mula One comes in a baby bot­tle.

“Oh no, I have no idea. I have never been in the race track,” said Rick Dhukka, owner of the El­roy Coun­try Corner con­ve­nience store, who knows lit­tle about the sport. “They have those in an­other state, a nice

Con­tin­ued from A1 track. But they have a lot of fans come and they have a na­tional cham­pi­onship or some­thing.”

Dhukka is hop­ing For­mula One comes to El­roy so he can make more money in his store and sell, among other things, more ball caps. He car­ries an im­pres­sive line of gimme hats. They’re strung in a clus­ter near the ceil­ing. One of Dhukka’s hats says “Shut up and Fish.” A For­mula One fan from Bel­gium might wear that hat while sip­ping on his pe­tite si­rah, right?

This is not to say El­roy folks don’t ap­pre­ci­ate fast cars. Re­mem­ber that the Longhorn Speedway, a small good ol’ boy stock-car track, used to be down the road where FM 812, which runs through El­roy, meets U.S. 183 a few miles to the west.

“What will this baby do?” I asked a gal named Haellee. She was fill­ing up her old, white Honda with gas at Dhukka’s con­ve­nience store. Green plas­tic beads hang from the rearview mir­ror, and the right front tire is missing a hub­cap.

“I’ve only got it up to about 90, but I had a Ford Es­cort I got up to 130,” Haellee said. “I guess it was messed with un­der the hood. I bought it like that.”

She knows about Dale Earn­hardt. “Sure do,” she said. But F1 rac­ing is a mys­tery to her. “I don’t usu­ally watch a lot of TV,” she ex­plained.

You couldn’t find a more un­likely place on the planet for an F1 crowd if you tried. And now, the talk is that two years from now the For­mula One cir­cuit and its Euro­pean driv­ers might be rac­ing in what to­day is a large field fit for fire ants north of El­roy’s down­town. If you can call it a down­town.

Ur­ban El­roy con­sists of the con­ve­nience store, Ray’s Used Tires and Ray’s Su­per Ser­vice; the Mex­ico Gen­eral Store with piñatas hang­ing from the ceil­ing and a pile of hay bales out front; a small vol­un­teer-run li­brary, which car­ries no books about For­mula One; and Wild Bubba’s Wild Game Grill, a col­or­ful res­tau­rant that ad­ver­tises “fried coy­ote tail” on the mo­bile sign out front.

“They’re wieners rolled up in a flour tor­tilla and deep fried,” said Wy­man Gil­liam, the owner. He has El­roy roots. His fam­ily has had a farm down the road since the ’60s.

Gil­liam, who car­ries a va­ri­ety of wild game burg­ers made out of the ac­tual an­i­mals (an­te­lope, bear and yak among them), plans to gear up for For­mula One. “I’ve made it known I sure would like to have a con­nec­tion and be­come a ven­dor,” he said.

I can hear it now: “Get your yak on a stick.” Rick Dhukka, owner of the El­roy Coun­try Corner con­ve­nience store, hopes that For­mula One com­ing to town will be good for busi­ness. With luck, those F1 fans will be in the mar­ket for gimme hats.

Gil­liam is plan­ning ahead for the so­phis­ti­cated F1 crowd.

“Guess I bet­ter clean the bath­rooms,” he quipped. He’s de­sign­ing a “EuroTex Burger,“ with Gruyere cheese, por­to­bello mush­rooms and ro­maine let­tuce.

“Too fancy for El­roy,” he said. “But I know with the in­ter­na­tional crowd, we’ll get a few Euro­peans in here. Yeah, I think I’ll get a beer per­mit. Even sell Dom Perignon for the vic­tors.”

And he in­tends to keep dis­tribut­ing his bumper stick­ers that ask, “Where the hell is El­roy, Texas?”

That’s a darned good ques­tion.

John Kelso

Wild Bubba’s Wild Game Grill, owned by Wy­man Gil­liam, is one of the few eater­ies in El­roy. Gil­liam hopes to sell deep-fried hot dogs wrapped in tor­tillas (‘coy­ote tails’) to For­mula One fans.

Trucks are parked in a row and marked ‘For Sale’ in a field near El­roy.

El­roy’s tiny down­town fea­tures the Mex­ico Gen­eral Store, which has piñatas hang­ing from the ceil­ing and hay bales out front.

John Kelso pho­tos

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