May 4, 2017, St. Louis Region – Gateway Motorsports Park President and CEO Curtis Francois spoke at today’s Anders and St. Louis Sports Commission Symposium: “Inside the Business of St. Louis Sports” at Washington University.
Francois spoke during the 9 a.m. panel discussion, “On The Horizon: St. Louis Blockbuster Events,” and was joined by Chris Roseman (St. Louis Sports Commission Vice President of Events), Howard Richards (University of Missouri Assistant Athletic Director – Community Relations) and Mike DeCola (2018 PGA Championship chairman). The symposium was moderated by Dr. Patrick Rishe, Director of the Washington University Sports Business Program and President and founder of Sportsimpacts.
Francois was introduced by Dr. Rishe as “the man who saved racing in this region” (after he purchased the dormant motorsports facility in Madison, Illinois in 2012).
“I appreciate the compliment but I’m not sure it was me,” Francois said. “There are a lot of folks here that were pulling the rope along with us to make that happen. I was the one that was the cheerleader to begin with. Looking back on the opportunity that was presented to me, it was really a decision that took a lot of time. I had to put some thought into it because I knew it was going to change my life. I’m a real estate developer and I’ve always been a guy who flies below the radar.
“I was a professional racer and I do a lot of development in the Metro East (a region in Illinois that comprises the eastern suburbs of St. Louis) and the opportunity arose to bring Gateway back. I thought long and hard not about what it was going to do for me from a financial standpoint, but the opportunity to take a major league facility that was underutilized and revitalize it. A lot of cities across the United States would die to have that opportunity. In St. Louis we really hadn’t recognized what was there. We had 57,000 seats on the (1.25-mile) oval, 20,000 seats on the drag strip and another 2,500 seats on an off-road racing track. It was a tremendous venue that needed someone to shepherd it through the hard times. It was not a hard decision, but it was a hard-thought decision. It’s been going well and we really credit the fans and participants that are helping us make it happen.”
Dr. Rishe asked Francois why the facility had failed and was shuttered.
“I can tell you that was first on my mind,” Francois said. “We needed to figure out why. We couldn’t go back in and make the same mistakes. We looked at it and ultimately decided that a facility like Gateway Motorsports Park had really relied on one type of racing, one type of sanctioning body, it was NASCAR at the time, and it was just not enough to keep the lights on year after year. We flipped that model around and said, ‘How many events per year can we host?’ We have our major events: INDYCAR, NASCAR and NHRA. But then we have more than 300 other event days on the calendar. That really makes a big difference. We came up with our karting complex. We have a road racing course. We have off-road racing. A perfect example of this is we’re hosting our third 5k run of the year this weekend. We’ll have a Christmas light display that’ll be over a mile-and-one-half long during the holiday season, which is cool. All of those different ways of repositioning the track to take advantage of a tremendous facility and infrastructure we have in place. It’s really turned around where it’s utilized on a day-to-day basis.
“It’s a very unique model. Look at what we’re doing with INDYCAR, specifically. That is like having the playoffs and the Winter Classic every year. It is so important for us this year. This is the first time ever that all of the stars and cars of the Indianapolis 500 are coming to St. Louis. It’s the real deal. This is a foundational year to lay the infrastructure to grow this for the next 20, 40, 60, 100 years. Last year Indianapolis celebrated their 100th anniversary. Long Beach has a 40-year history. St. Petersburg has a 20-year history. And you see them growing hundreds of thousands of fans for those weekends. As we bring the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 Presented By Valvoline to St. Louis it is a bit of an educational process. Unless you’re a motorsports fan, you may not understand the significance of what’s coming. It is important for us to develop this foundation.
“INDYCAR is a great new demographic for us. Some of it is similar, as far as parking and feeding our guests and make sure they have a great time. INDYCAR has a more international appeal and it’s certainly a group that embraces technology. INDYCAR is the highest level of open wheel racing in the United States. We are seeing a higher corporate level of involvement than our other races. It’s a great thing for St. Louis.”
Kevin Thoele photo
Tickets for the inaugural Bommarito Automotive Group 500 Presented By Valvoline may be purchased online at www.gatewaymsp.com/indycar/ or by calling the GMP ticket office at (618) 215-8888. Tickets start at just $35. Kids 15 and under are free (general admission) with a paid adult.
For more information on Gateway Motorsports Park, please call (618) 215-8888. Follow GMP on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram.
For more information on the Verizon IndyCar Series, please visit www.indycar.com.
About Gateway Motorsports Park
Gateway Motorsports Park is the home of INDYCAR, NASCAR and NHRA racing in the St. Louis region. Located just five minutes from downtown St. Louis and covering more than 340 acres, Gateway Motorsports Park is the largest outdoor entertainment facility in the area. Gateway Motorsports Park’s facilities include a 1/4-mile drag strip, 1.25-mile superspeedway, 1.6-mile road course, a state-of-the-art Karting facility and a 14-acre, multi-purpose dirt off-road venue.