As the inaugural NASCAR Cup Series race at World Wide Technology Raceway becomes even closer to reality, the anticipation for all involved naturally grows.
The track — located in Madison, Illinois, just east of St. Louis — will host two races, the Camping World Truck Series and Cup Series, next weekend, June 3-5.
“There is no doubt there is excitement in the air in the St. Louis region for the Cup date,” track owner and CEO Curtis Francois told RACER.
“St. Louis is a great sports town, to begin with, and we finally are adding in a Cup race,” he said. “Fans have been waiting here for 25 years to experience a Cup race, and I think the Cup Series will get a very warm welcome when we start the race, and they see that warm Midwest hospitality on display.”
It’s been a journey to get here. Francois took ownership of the track in 2011 when it was left in such disrepair it needed minor work — like “an awful lot of weed cutting” and grass mowing — as well as infrastructure updates. Fortunately, Francois saw that the bones of the track were in great shape, it was just overall maintenance that was the problem.
“Really what I walked into was a facility that just needed someone that had the vision and made the commitment to the weekly care that it takes to keep up a facility,” Francois said. “I knew we had an opportunity to turn it around.”
Francois and the community were committed to the process. NHRA came to town, then IndyCar and the NASCAR Truck Series returned in 2014 after four years away, having raced there from 1998 through 2010.
“I think that it’s very important to recognize this has been a 10-year turnaround project and in those 10 years, we’ve expanded the facility from 170 acres to now close to 700 acres,” said Francois. “That tells a lot of the story.
“Now we have an adjacent 18-hole golf course; we have 1,200 new camping sites and 15,000 parking spots right next to the racetrack as well as others. There is a lake close to the racetrack.
“There’s just so much that’s gone on from the big picture facility side, and then we started making sure we’d be ready to host the NASCAR Cup Series and the additional demands required there.”
NASCAR Trucks returned to WWTR in 2014. Gregg Ellman, Motorsport Images
Francois admitted that WWTR will look different when NASCAR and its fans arrive next weekend. The suite tower has been re-imagined and renovated, while a new fan zone has been built in the infield along with a fan walk to allow closer access to the garages. Verizon and WWTR have also worked on the Wi-Fi package. There are also competition upgrades.
“We’ve worked some on the SAFER barriers and wall; a lot of safety upgrades throughout the facility,” Francois said.
By 2025, it’s expected that $100 million will have been invested into WWTR.
“We’d already invested $40 to $50 million before this lead up to Cup,” Francois said. “We’ve made a new commitment and have a plan that really started in September of last year as we prepared for the first race. Over the next two years, we’ll continue to invest, and it’s just going to be a spectacular enhancement to what’s already a great facility.”
Having a Cup Series race is also expected to boost tourism and the local economy.
“There’s no doubt it will be a great thing for the community,” Francois said. “What’s very interesting is that there is a huge group of avid racing fans, a huge group of avid NASCAR fans, over 500,000 avid fans in the seven-county region [around] St. Louis. Those fans have been hungry for a Cup race for 25 years — ever since this racetrack was constructed.
“So I think the fans will be just thrilled to know that they’re not traveling to a NASCAR Cup race, NASCAR Cup racing is finally coming to them. I think that’s a real win for all the parties involved.
“As we bring the Cup Series to St. Louis, I think we’ve demonstrated our city will support this. I think NASCAR looked at St. Louis for several reasons, but a lot of it was the great fan support. Some of it is we’ve been supporting grassroots racing for many years through our sponsorship of the Chili Bowl or attending the many asphalt and dirt races around us.
“Another big part of that is the many great companies that showed support early on as I introduced the St. Louis region to NASCAR. Many meetings took place before the decision was made, but ultimately, I think everyone was comfortable that St. Louis would be a great stop and a great addition to the NASCAR Cup schedule.”
That looks evident through ticket sales as WWTR is trending toward being a sellout for the inaugural race.
“I’m not going to predict a sellout, but if things trend as they have been, there’s no doubt in my mind we’ll have a sellout,” said Francois.