Gateway Motorsports Park’s Dragplex is blessed with a solid core of bracket racers who support, represent and help to promote the track. One such group is the Ratulowski family of Highland, Illinois.
Patriarch John Ratulowski, 48, is a service manager for a General Motors dealership and it’s been his occupation for 32 years. His own achievements aside, he is proud of his sons and their accomplishments. Like many families involved in motorsports, racing is generational.
“I had a passion for cars,” John began. “My father and his friends drag raced in the 1950s. My mom and dad and friends would get together on Saturday nights and watch old 8mm films of drag racing from Oswego Raceway Park. I grew up in the Chicago area and the track was about 45 minutes away. I liked motorsports of all kinds. I moved to St. Louis in 1988, I discovered what then was St. Louis International Raceway, which now is Gateway Motorsports Park.”
John “discovered” St. Louis and its track thanks to his wife and her family.
“My wife Stacy and I attended high school together in Bolingbrook, Illinois. Stacy’s parents are from the St. Louis area. Their jobs transferred them to Chicago so I was lucky enough to meet her in high school. Her mom and dad moved back to St. Louis. Stacy moved too and I relocated to St. Louis to be with her. I’ll never forget, it was July 3, 1989. Stacy now owns her own payroll and bookkeeping business and also works for St. John Neumann Catholic School as an accountant. Stacy and my sons have the same work ethic: We give 100 percent to whatever we do.
“My first run down the drag strip was on a Test ‘n’ Tune night in my 1979 Trans-Am. I discovered how slow it was when I got to the track! You drive your car on the street and you think it’s really fast. But at the track it went like 15.80. The Camaro I’m racing now was purchased one month before my son Michael was born so I’ve had the same (Pro-class Camaro) since 1995. I started coming to Gateway as soon as the new facility was completed in 1997. There was probably an eight-year span of me racing at the old track to the new one. I got serious about bracket racing in 2001. My first win came in a gambler’s race on a Friday night in 2002. Once I figured out I could actually do this, I joined the points in 2003 and I won the championship that year. I’ve been lucky enough to win three championships and was runner-up twice.
“My sons have literally grown up at Gateway and that’s no exaggeration. I can remember us bringing playpens to the track for the kids.”
Son Mike is 21 and is in his fourth year of mechanical engineering studies at SIU Edwardsville. Mike currently competes in the Sportsman class and he won the High School championship in 2013. Mike also won the Division 3 championship at Indianapolis that year.
“Mike was Gateway’s only divisional champion in the High School class, so that was a special weekend,” John said.
Son Danny, 19, graduated this year from Triad High School in Troy, Illinois, and currently is enrolled in Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. As this goes to press, he is leading the High School class point standings and needs only to win in the first round of the final meet (on August 31) to clinch the 2016 title. He also competes in the Sportsman category. Over the summer, he worked at the track and earned high marks from the staff.
— John Bisci
John Ratulowski at speed. (Brad Plant photo)