The first course Curtis Francois was concerned about navigating safely after purchasing a sprawling racetrack was the parking lot filled with giant weeds that were an impediment for drivers.
Soon after, World Wide Technology Raceway was the site of NHRA’s largest drag racing event. Then a NASCAR Truck Series race. Then an IndyCar spectacle.
That building process culminated with the addition of a NASCAR Cup Series race for June 5, 2022, marking the final and biggest link in establishing WWTR’s national prestige in the racing world.
After a press conference to announce the race Wednesday, Francois recalled the first days he ventured around the grounds in Madison, Ill., and the growth of crowds as races were added to the schedule.
“That helped with NASCAR taking notice that there’s something different taking place in St. Louis,” he said. “There was a different energy at this racetrack.”
The longheld dream of bringing the country’s top racing series to the track was acknowledged at an event that included civic and business leaders, politicians, local sports legends and a video appearance by NASCAR driver Kyle Larson.
Francois compared the Cup series to having the World Series or Stanley Cup Finals in town every year.
He does not expect the race, tentatively called the NASCAR Gateway Cup, to be a one-year event, although a NASCAR spokesman declined to say if a contract exists for multiple years.
“A lot of the schedule is now on a year-to-year basis,” said Ben Kennedy, NASCAR’s senior vice president of strategy and innovation. “If it’s successful, which I’m sure it will be, it could be a long-term venue and market for us. St. Louis and the Midwest are hungry for NASCAR racing.”
The race will be one of 38 on the schedule next year, including two at Kansas Speedway and one at Indianapolis and Nashville.
WWTR was the site of NASCAR races in the Xfinity series, the stepping stone to the Cup series, from 1997 to 2010. The truck series has been at the track every year since 1998 except when operations shut down from 2011 to ’13.
Francois envisions a similar run for the Cup series.
“If you look at the history of how NASCAR operates, they don’t do short-term deals, which is great for St. Louis,” he said. “I have no doubt we’ll do a tremendous job. I have great confidence looking at the future of NASCAR.”
Francois purchased the track 10 years ago after it briefly sat dormant. The previous owner was Dover Motorsports. The presence of a local owner has allowed for greater growth during Francois’ time at the helm.
In addition to the NASCAR trucks and NHRA drag racing events, WWTR added an IndyCar race in 2017 for the first time under Francois. That race has drawn as many as 50,000 fans in 2019.
The 1 ¼-mile oval seats 57,000 fans – 40,000 in the grandstands along the straightaway and 17,000 in turn 2. That will remain the capacity for the Cup race.
“That’s perfect,” Francois said. “If we had to build a track to open 22 years ago, we wouldn’t change a thing. We were fortunate that NASCAR has moved to smaller tracks and seating capacities. It maintains the energy and value of the seats. Twenty years ago, it was ‘Let’s get as many as possible in.’”
Kennedy said the facility will need only minor renovations for the race. The track was re-surfaced in 2017 after 20 years soon after IndyCar drivers reported their tires were being cut in practice for that year’s race. The original asphalt was torn out and a three-inch-thick track put in place.
Among those still competing in the Cup series who have won races at WWTR in the last 25 years are Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, Bubba Wallace, Christopher Bell and Brad Keselowski.
“I’ve always wanted to get a chance to race at (WWTR),” Larson said during his video appearance and the press conference. “I’ve raced at Pevely and the dome. So, I’m excited to get a Cup race there.”