Gateway Motorsports Park developer Wayne Meinert had one thing in mind back in 1967: to introduce St. Louis, Missouri, to new excitements in motorsports. The track, then named St. Louis Raceway Park, was opened as a simple 1/8-mile drag strip. Meinert quickly realized that with 1/4-mile drag racing gaining popularity, he needed to purchase additional property and expand the track. That’s just what he did; and in 1971, he expanded by adding a brand-new 1/4-mile drag strip under the new name St. Louis International Raceway.
In 1985, as the demand for racing continued to grow, the track was again expanded to include a road course and the racing season opened to a growing group of racing enthusiasts. The 2.6-mile circuit was flat with a few small elevation changes, and actually incorporated parts of the drag strip and shutdown area. It played host to the Trans Am Series, Can-Am and a variety of Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) regional and national events. That same year, a 1/20-mile oval dirt track opened to host a variety of karting events. Three years later, the name changed again to Gateway International Raceway.
In 1995, promoter Chris Pook purchased the racing venue…and immediately began demolition on all the existing tracks. Pook had racing in his heart and race fuel in his veins. Prior to purchasing Gateway International Raceway, he promoted the Formula 1 and Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) races of the Long Beach Grand Prix. With demolition underway, plans were put in place to begin construction of a new oval, an infield road course and an NHRA-sanctioned drag strip.
The first event held at the newly designed venue was a CART Series on May 24, 1997. One month later, the National Hot Rod Association hosted its first-ever National Event at the venue to a standing-room-only crowd. Joe Amato and current Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car driver Ron Capps were the first professional drag racing champions to roll down the drag strip, creating an event that has become one of the most popular events on the championship tour. CART and NHRA weren’t the only ones interested in Gateway. That same year, NASCAR held its first-ever event on the 1.25-mile oval track. NASCAR quickly realized the success with St. Louis racing fans, and increased their presence in the area in 1998 by adding the Camping World Truck Series to their events at the venue.
The facility changed hands again and was purchased by Dover Motorsports, Inc., who had previously owned and operated Memphis Motorsports Park. After closing the Memphis track, they hosted two Nationwide Series at Gateway. But by the end of 2010, Dover announced the closure of Gateway due to the inability to run the operations with acceptable returns, and the track officially closed on November 3, 2010.
The closing of Gateway left a gaping hole in the St. Louis racing community. Retired racecar driver and real estate developer Curtis Francois realized this big opportunity and purchased the facility, announcing the re-opening of the 160-acre facility for the 2012 season. The track was re-branded Gateway Motorsports Park to better reflect the diverse motorsports events Francois had envisioned for the facility. Today, Gateway Motorsports Park is the largest outdoor entertainment facility in the region, including a 1/4-mile NHRA-sanctioned drag strip, a 1.25-mile NASCAR oval track, a 1.6-mile road course, a newly built world-class karting facility, improved grandstands and a recently completed fan pavilion. 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 just two very short years, Gateway Motorsports Park went from an abandoned racing facility that was months away from being sold for scrap to one of the up-and-coming motorsports facilities in the United States. This weekend, you can catch a glimpse of all the racing excitement Gateway Motorsports Park has to offer as they host the NHRA Midwest Nationals. Tune in and follow the Don Schumacher Racing team as they chase titles in the Countdown to the Championship Playoffs.