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Thursday, June 13, 2024

The Comeback: How Gateway Motorsports Park Returned to Glory

Gateway, a 1.25-mile oval, hosts a number of events each year, including a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event, INDYCAR event and an NHRA event on its dragstrip. Image courtesy of Gateway Motorsports Park.

Gateway Motorsports Park track owner Curtis Francois during a 2016 press conference held at the Four Seasons Hotel in St. Louis, Missouri, announcing that INDYCAR racing would return to Gateway Motorsports Park. Francois stepped in to save GMP  just two weeks before the grandstands were set to be dismantled. (Photo by Michael Allio/ICON Sportswire).

Former race car driver and successful business owner Curtis Francois knows a thing or two about the racing industry. Coupled with his passion for the St. Louis area, Francois seemed like the perfect fit to turn Gateway Motorsports Park back into the thriving facility that it once was.

November 3, 2010, was a fateful day for GMP and its employees. Dover Motorsports, which owned the track at the time, announced that the racing facility was closing. With the closure came the cessation of all racing activities at a place that had been a staple of nearby St. Louis since opening as a drag strip in 1967.

Fast forward just 10 months and five days later and enter Francois. Francois, a native of St. Louis, Missouri, had a passion for St. Louis, a city just five minutes and less than four miles from the track, and Gateway. He actually raced at Gateway in 1989 and had a deep history with the facility. Therefore, when he heard about the chance to revitalize the track, he knew he had to jump at the opportunity.

Two weeks before the grandstands were set to be dismantled, Francois stepped in and saved the day.

“The word running through my head was obligated,” said Francois. “I felt that I had to do something to save it. Gateway is a tremendous facility with an outstanding location close to downtown St Louis, and I couldn’t live with the thought that it would be dismantled. I believed I had the skill set to bring a different perspective to running the racetrack.”

Gateway, a 1.25-mile oval, hosts a number of events each year, including a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event, INDYCAR event and an NHRA event on its dragstrip. (Image courtesy of Gateway Motorsports Park.)

Francois knew that a racetrack with a deep history simply needed a fresh perspective and felt he was the man to bring new ideas to the table. He wanted to involve the local community and grassroots fans as well.

“I wanted to bring the local perspective,” said the owner. “I have a passion for racing and the community surrounding the race track. I felt like it just needed a new business model, which I was able to bring.”

Once Francois knew that he wanted to own the track, he did a complete inspection. It seemed as if every square foot of the facility was analyzed, which Francois does not deny.

“It (the inspection) started with a lot of boots on the ground,” he said. “We started with the racing surfaces and the infrastructure. What did we have? What needed to improve?

It was important to make sure we didn’t go into it with a lot of surprises, granted there were some along the way. We did the inspection top to bottom and came to understand that the facility was in excellent condition, just needed some fixing up and a new business model.”

As for the business model, Francois’ approach is simple: put on world-class events and engage the locals. Francois knows that the grassroots racing community, which has a strong presence in the St Louis area, had a chance to call Gateway its home when he took over the track, and he made sure to maximize that opportunity.

“Our model has been grassroots motorsports fans, which have a strong presence in St. Louis. We knew that that the fans in the area were underserved. We’ve tapped into a huge base of motorsports supporters. For the first time in the history of St. Louis, you have the opportunity for fans to come out and interact with a national facility. Having the full INDYCAR series in 2017, gave the fans something to call their own.”

Todd Gilliland (51) Toyota Tundra leads a group of trucks through turn four during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Drivin’ for Linemen 200 on June 17, 2017, at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Illinois. The series will return to GMP this season, on June 23, 2018. (Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire)

Not only does the track have INDYCAR, but it also puts on NHRA and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series events. Francois signed a deal with the NHRA prior to him obtaining the track, something that he believes was an absolute necessity if he wanted to make Gateway the pride and joy of the St Louis area and surrounding communities.

Francois struck a handshake deal with NHRA President Tom Compton that the series would visit Gateway if Francois purchased the track.

Said Francois: “That commitment from Tom Compton allowed us some guaranteed revenue stream. It was so important to laying the foundation to the track. We are proud to have the NHRA come to Gateway Motorsports Park and are doing the best we can to represent them well. We want to make sure we put on a great weekend for them.”

While Francois might be the mastermind behind revitalizing Gateway, he knows that every team member deserves credit – from those employed by the track to the members in the community that truly have a passion for racing and Gateway.

The track’s INDYCAR event is a prime example of just how many resources it takes to put on a successful racing event and that support from the community is vital.

“Like all of our events, the INDYCAR race took time, preparation and resources,” said Francois. “So many people stepped up and contributed, not just employees, but fans in the community and volunteers. They do it because they love racing and our mission. They do it because Gateway is their home track. We have such a following of motorsports fans in St Louis, and three dirt tracks within 30 miles, but fans have really bought into our mission and revitalization of the track.”

The crew at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Illinois took advantage of a break in the weather recently to work on the expansion of parking lots and campgrounds in preparation for his year’s INDYCAR, NASCAR, and NHRA events. This year, the track will host more than 130 events. (Image Courtesy of Gateway Motorsports Park.)

With the track back on a successful path, Francois and his team don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. For that matter, the team at Gateway is not content either and is continually looking to make the steps.

“We’re adding new attributes and offerings at our events to enhance the experience and make it special for every fan that comes through the turnstiles,” said Francois. “We’ve added an ARCA race to our NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race weekend and a K&N Pro Series East-West combination event to our INDYCAR weekend. Not only that, but we’ve also added a Formula Drift event.”

This year, more than 130 events are planned at the 340-acre facility, which was the recipient of the 2017 Outstanding Facility of the Year Award from the Race Track Business Conference and the 2017 Spirit of St. Louis Award from St. Louis Attractions Association.

“We keep adding events and have taken some huge steps forward,” said Francois. “The good news is that we don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.”

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