gateway-1Once upon a time in America, race tracks and drag strips seemed to be sprouting up like wildflowers around every major and minor city. At its peak there were hundreds, perhaps even thousands of drag strips dotting America’s farmlands and side roads. Today though, drag strips and race tracks as a whole seem to be fewer and fewer in number, with track closing far outpacing announcements regarding new raceways to replace them.

So every feel-good story about a drag strip and racetrack fending off closure, there seems to be at least two that are shuttered for good. The St. Louis Dispatch reports that Gateway Motorsports Park (formerly Gateway International Raceway) has found a new, enthusiastic owner, even as tracks like Arizona Speedworld and Dallas Raceway are forced to shut down.

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Image credit: Dallas Raceway

In 2011 Curtis Francois came to manage Gateway International Raceway with a one-year lease, with an option to buy. He knew he wanted to own the track and its 200-acre parcel of land to bring back the glory days of racing to a track just five minutes from downtown St. Louis. In addition to a ¼ mile drag strip, Gateway also has a 1.25 mile oval track and a 1.67 mile road course for competitors to race on.

Francois saved the track from certain doom, as for a while there it looked like nobody would step in to manage or buy the track, which had fallen on difficult economic times due in large part to hefty tax burdens. Located in Madison, Illinois, the track has been renamed and Francois has convinced the NHRA and NASCAR to take an interest in the tracks. It’s a major win for a young track that has seen multiple different leases in 13 years. In 2010 the company that owned the park, Dover Motorsports, planned to shut it down for good, until Francois stepped in.

It’s a rare win for drag racing enthusiasts, who have seen literally dozens of tracks close down for good in the past decade. While many of these tracks simply fell into disrepair from disinterested owners, or failed to draw the crowds, others fell victim to changes in local or state laws, or lawsuits brought on by housing developments.

For example, Arizona Speedworld was reportedly forced by state officials to either invest approximately $5 million in drag strip improvements, or shut down the facility. These improvements would have included water and sewer facilities, permanent outbuildings, and other features that would be difficult to implement in these tight economic times.

swThe track owners attempted to cut a deal for a temporary permit that would have allowed drag racing on 30 weekends a year, giving them the time and money to implement improvements. But that deal was shut down. So despite having been an established race track since 1961, Arizona Speedworld ultimately had to close its doors for good a couple of months ago.

Money issues also forced the closure of Dallas Raceway early last year, and in many ways is an even sadder story. Despite having been completely refurbished with a brand-new concrete drag strip, a 3,600 square-foot control tower, and a hospitality center, the Dallas Raceway faced hard economic times, and ultimately couldn’t make ends meet.

Ultimately, this is a story about too much of a good thing. There are probably still too many tracks in a country where fuel economy now trumps performance when it comes to buying a new car. As sad as it is to say, don’t be surprised to see even more tracks closing in the next few years.

Still, as long as there are guys like Curtis Francois buying up race tracks and giving them a second chance at life, motorsports will never die in America.

UPDATE:

In a reversal of last week’s news regarding the Dallas Raceway, a local business owner and longtime racer in the Crandall area, Mike Adcock, has purchased the facility and plans to keep it in operation with little interruption. Dallas Raceway will host the IHRA Pro-Am event that had previously been postponed pending a new location.

“We are very glad to hear that everything has been resolved and that Dallas Raceway will continue to be a part of the IHRA family,” said Frank Kohutek, IHRA Division 4 Director. “Dallas Raceway is a wonderful facility run by some great people and the track has developed quite a loyal following over the years. We welcome Mike back to the IHRA family. On behalf of IHRA and the racers in Division 4, we want to personally thank Mike for stepping up and saving Dallas Raceway and giving the facility an opportunity to be successful.”

Adcock, who will become the sole owner of the track with his wife of 38 years, Sharon, has been in the sport since 1975, and was involved in the construction of the track when it opened in 2009.

“We are very much looking forward to seeing our numerous friends back out at the track as well as the many new racers we are sure to meet,” Adcock said. “Hopefully this will only help grow the facility as we strive to provide one of the top racing facilities in the state.”