'The track has shown such promise': New owners of Gateway plan $20 million in improvements

News-DemocratMay 6, 2013 

The group of investors who have been operating Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison since last year under a lease agreement has purchased the race track with plans to reinvest in the property.

The group, led by local real estate developer and former National Hot Rod Association driver Curtis Francois, took over the metro-east track's operation in September 2011. Last week, Francois said his partners completed the sale with the different parties who each owned the parcels of the 290 acres located within track's property. Following this announcement, the new ownership group also announced its plans to invest more than $20 million in capital improvements at the track.

"We're happy and thrilled to pass that milestone so we can concentrate on moving forward," Francois said. "The track has shown such promise over the past year."

The track, initially known as Gateway International Raceway, opened in 1996 and had its first NASCAR race in 1997. Delaware-based Dover Motorsports purchased the track a year later but closed it in November 2010 saying declining profits had driven down the property's value.

Francois said he and his partners initially set out to complete the transaction in 2011, but the deal needed more time. So in the meantime, they leased the property.

"All along, we wanted to make sure we had cohesive structure here," Francois said. "That was our goal, to make sure we got that done to provide us flexibility to do what we wanted to do."

He said the capital improvements will come in three phases. The first calls for invested about $11.5 million in upgrading the track's infrastructure, which includes renovating the grandstand and concession stands, improving drainage and adding new corporate meeting space.

"Nothing sexy, just all of those things that really over the years have not been maintained or have reached the end of usable life," Francois said. "We're going about those and then getting back up to speed so we can move forward."

When Francois and his partners reopened the track last year, they also opened drag strip daily to the public. Wednesdays, the track hosts Wide-Open Wednesdays, part of the Test 'N' Tune Trophy Racing Program, which invites amateurs and enthusiasts to bring in their own street car, receive a tech inspection and go race on the quarter-mile-long drag strip.

"We're really promoting that and trying to remove any barriers so folks who want to get on the track and race can do it," he said.

The track's drag strip was been repaved and drag racing returned last season. More NHRA events are coming this year.

On June 1, the 1.25-mile oval race track will reopen to spectators for the first time since October 2010 with a United States Auto Club Sprint Car Series event, the Traxxas Silver Crown Oval Race.

This season's racing events include an X-Treme Drag Racing League event June 14 and 15, the Super Chevy Show from June 21-23, the Fun Ford Weekend from July 19-21, the All-American Hot Rod Showdown from Aug. 9-Aug. 11 and a monster truck show Sept. 7.

Contact reporter Will Buss at wbuss@bnd.com or 239-2526.

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