Nationwide race may be the last one for Gateway
When promoter Chris Pook secured $21.5 million in state-issued bonds to build Gateway International Raceway near Madison in 1996, many signs pointed to long-term success.
There was a new 1.25 oval track along with a new drag strip located a few miles from downtown St. Louis along the attractive and accessible location of Interstate 55/70.
With Pook's ties to CART and affiliation with the Long Beach Grand Prix, the track seemed to be on solid footing. There was a successful racing debut in 1997 and over the years some of the world's top drivers on several racing circuits competed at Gateway.
Fast forward to 2010 and the final checkered flag could be dropped on Saturday at the conclusion of the NASCAR Nationwide 5-hour Energy 250.
In July, the track's owner -- Dover Motorsports, Inc. --announced the facility was for sale and informed sanctioning officials at NASCAR that it would not apply for dates to host the Camping World Trucks Series or Nationwide Series.
In August, the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) removed Gateway from its 2011 drag racing schedule.
"It's like losing a friend," said Pete Wickham, a former public relations director at Gateway. "For a lot of people, it will be a little like a funeral. I feel for the people who loved coming to the races, the ones you'd see time after time."
In the latest NASCAR Nationwide race in July, Carl Edwards bumped Brad Keselowski into the wall during a wild final lap as Edwards captured his third Gateway victory in the Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers 250.
Edwards and Keselowski return to the Madison track on Saturday along with popular driver Danica Patrick for what could be Gateway's final encore.
"Certainly what we've been doing wasn't working out there," Dover Motorsports CEO Denis McGlynn told the News-Democrat when the announcement was made earlier this summer. "We wish the economy was a lot stronger. Our business really depends on discretionary dollars and right now there aren't too many of them around, certainly not enough to support what we've been doing out there (at Gateway)."
A bad economy definitely impacted Gateway, but so did several other factors. The track never secured enough land around the facility for parking, which led to extended court battles, and there were also issues with traffic on Illinois 203.
Gateway's racing oval seats about 55,000, while the drag strip has seating for approximately 20,000.
In addition, track officials' quest to land an elusive NASCAR Sprint Cup race through the years never came to fruition. Just about every type of racing and sanctioning body took its turn on the track, including the popular NASCAR Nationwide Series that features numerous Sprint Cup drivers.
NHRA drag racing events were always popular and well attended.
"I don't think the economy was what put this thing down," said Lenny Batycki, Gateway's former vice president and general manager from December, 2006 to Oct. 1, 2009. "Long before anyone ever drove around that oval, there were some challenges already in place." More at BND.com