Gateway Motorsports Park has a rich and storied history with a future that is built on the foundation of introducing St. Louis area race fans to new and exciting forms of sports entertainment.
Wayne Meinert first developed the original St. Louis Raceway Park in 1967 as a simple, 1/8 –mile drag strip. Four years later, following the acquisition of additional land, he expanded the racing surface to a quarter mile and renamed the facility St. Louis International Raceway.
In 1985, as the demand for racing increased, a road course was constructed and opened the facility to another group of racing enthusiasts. The 2.6 mile circuit was flat, with only a few small elevation changes, and incorporated parts of the drag strip and shutdown area to provide unique challenge for participants. The new circuit played host the Trans Am Series, Can-Am and a variety of Sports Car Club of American (SCCA) regional and national events. That same year, a 1/20 mile dirt oval opened to play host to a variety of karting events.
In 1995 the track was purchased by promoter Chris Pook who immediately began a demolition project of all the existing tracks, which had been renamed Gateway International Raceway in 1988. Pook, who had previously promoted the Formula 1 and Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) races of the Long Beach (CA) Grand Prix, began construction of a new oval, an infield road course and NHRA sanctioned drag strip.
The first major event held at the facility was a Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) Series race on Saturday, May 24, 1997. The event was held amid the controversy of open wheel racing’s well-publicized split with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy Racing League. The race was contested the day prior to the Indy Racing League’s Indianapolis 500 and was won by Canadian Paul Tracy.
One month later, in June of 1997, the National Hot Rod Association hosted its first-ever National Event at the venue to a near standing-room only crowd. Joe Amato (Top Fuel) and Ron Capps (Funny Car) became the first professional category drag racing champions at Gateway and created an event that has continued to be one of the most popular on the championship tour.
The magical 1997 season saw another historic landmark one month later, on July 26, when the first-ever NASCAR event was held on the 1.25 mile oval. Elliott Sadler wrote his name in the record books as the first of 15 NASCAR Nationwide Series event winners at Gateway between 1997 and 2010. The first event proved exciting to the fans with 14 cautions and 15 lead changes in what remains the longest, 300 miles, NASCAR race ever contested at Gateway.
NASCAR increased its presence in St. Louis with the addition of the Camping World Truck Series on September 19, 1998. The unique shape and banking of the facility proved perfect for the Truck Series with a pole qualifying speed of 131.218 mile per hour and a hotly contested race that saw Rick Carelli become the first of 13 truck series winners between 1998 and 2010.
In 2010 Dover Motorsports, Inc., who had earlier purchased the facility from Pook, hosted two Nationwide Series at Gateway following their closure of Memphis Motorsports Park. Dover, citing their inability to run the operations with acceptable returns, officially announced that Gateway was officially closing and ceasing operations on November 3, 2010.
On Sept. 8, 2011, retired race car driver and real estate developer Curtis Francois announced the re-opening of the 160-acre facility for the 2012 season. With one of the largest racing schedules in the track’s history, Francois renamed and rebranded the park Gateway Motorsports Park (Gateway MSP) to better reflect the diverse motorsports events and activities planned for the future. An important key to reopening Gateway MSP was the commitment to drag racing and the partnership with the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA). Francois inked a long-term deal with the NHRA starting with a signature event in September 2012, which was a tremendous success. In November 2013, Gateway MSP and NASCAR announced the return of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for the 2014 season.
Today, Gateway MSP sparkles with the excitement of an $11.5 million revitalization and fan enthusiasm not seen in decades. Now increased to more than 200 acres, Gateway Motorsports Park is the largest outdoor entertainment facility in the region, encompassing a ¼ mile NHRA-sanctioned drag strip, 1.25 mile NASCAR oval track, 1.6 mile road course, a newly built world class karting facility, improved grandstands and a recently completed fan pavilion. To increase its presence in the world of motorsports, Gateway is currently in the design phase for a multi-use dirt facility that will feature off-road, sand drag and tractor pulling events.
In an effort to expand to new realms of business development, a two-story conference center has been added to the infield of the oval track. Gateway is also expanding with more opportunities for car enthusiasts to participate in racing activities with the Gateway Challenge Experience. The Gateway Challenge puts individuals and corporate groups behind the wheel of new Chevrolet SS Camaros with driving instruction and competitions.
Just two short years after being shuttered, and just months away from being sold for scrap, Gateway Motorsports Park is now considered one of the up-and-coming motorsports facilities in the United States. The 2014 schedule, which is currently under development, is anchored by appearances by appearances by NHRA’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series.