The new majority owner and president of the metro-east's largest raceway has shifted gears by expanding operations include inviting the public to learn more about the sport and test their skills on the track.
As a former race car driver, Curtis Francois has envisioned a venue to bring not only scheduled races, like the upcoming AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals on Sept. 27 to Sept. 29, but also businesses and race fans to participate and get a hands-on experience.
He and fellow investors took over Gateway Motorsports Park, initially known as Gateway International Raceway, in September 2011 and have invested millions in capital improvements and expansion. Francois recently talked to business writer Will Buss about the race track:
Job: President and majority owner, Gateway Motorsports Park at 700 Raceway Blvd. in Madison (215-8888)
Outlook: "We want to drive business through Gateway on a daily basis."
How have consumers responded since you and your investors took over and reopened the race track?
"The response has just been unbelievable. I think that there was a real desire for racing to return to the area, and when we purchased the race track and reopened the facility, they greeted us with open arms. There have been so many people behind the scenes helping us and so many folks pulling the rope to work with us to make the track successful."
What is your goal for the race track?
"Our goal is to provide racing on a daily basis. So if you come out to the race track, just about any day, there is something going on. We have certain participant events that go on. We have the fans come out to the races and we also have the direct interaction with people who want to get on the track for the first time. We have programs that cater to those people who want to get out and learn about racing and get on the track. So our Gateway Challenge program offers opportunities for corporate events and for people to come out for team-building experiences. They are able to enjoy the morning and afternoon of instruction and the time spent in our race cars on the track. We want anyone who wants to be engaged in motor sports to be able to come to Gateway and engage in it."
How did you come up with this business model?
"I think it is time in the racing industry that we really have to broaden our appeal. So the business model of just opening for two, three or four times a year for major events is problematic. We want to drive business through Gateway on a daily basis. For instance, we have events happening on the oval, we have events happening on road course, we have events happening on the drag strip, we have events happening on the auto-cross course and we will have events happening on the kartplex. We're building that now. We have events happening on a daily basis. Combine them with building a new conference center, all of these together combine to have multiple streams of business that allow us to operate on a much expanded basis instead of only operating on a purely fan-driven racing basis. The oval track has been here and the drag strip has been here. We have made significant improvements to the drag strip and we're just become much more efficient using the infrastructure that was existing here and adding where we can."
Are you and your fellow owners pursuing major sanctioned races?
"For sure, bringing a major sanctioned event is a goal. Part of that goal is realizing that bringing back energy and support for the track, and that energy and support comes from fans participating and in large part from local businesses and the regional businesses that support the track. What we're working toward is to solidify our base of those people. Once we got a lot of that solidified, we will be attractive for bringing sanctioned racing here. We're clearly positioning ourselves for that. There is nothing imminent, but we're certainly looking at all opportunities out there."
Are you still working in real estate?
"Yes, I'm still active in the real estate company. I'm working a lot of hours these days."
Where is the company located?
"In Chesterfield, but our primary focus is in the metro-east."
Why focus on the metro-east?
"We have always seen tremendous potential in the metro-east going back to late '90s, when we started developing. There are great opportunities here with great people to work with and there are great locations here to develop."
What do you see in the race track's immediate future?
"We had a very successful reopening at the track and that is due to support from all the way down to the fans to participants to city, county and state. Everyone understands the value of this regional gem. We're not the Cardinals. We're not the Rams. We're not the Blues. But we are in the same conversation as a meaningful sports entertainment complex."
Contact reporter Will Buss at email@example.com or 239-2526.