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St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 29, 2010 article [print, page one]

 

 

Loss of Nascar could turn out the lights on Gateway

BY KATHLEEN NELSON knelson@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8233 | Posted: Thursday, July 29, 2010 12:05

MADISON The lights went out literally about two weeks ago at Gateway International Raceway here. They were dimmed figuratively Wednesday, when the track's owners announced that NASCAR's Nationwide and Camping World truck series would not return in 2011.

The news creates an uncertain future for Gateway. Without the NASCAR draw and the revenue that it generates, it is unknown whether the track can remain financially viable past this season which could turn the lights out permanently.

"It's a function of the economy, I think," said Terry Harmeson, vice president and general manager of Gateway. "It's certainly not good news for our staff, the fans and the community. The economics weren't there in terms of getting enough people to (our) events."

Denis McGlynn, president and CEO of Dover Motorsports, said in a statement that Dover, the owner of Gateway, would explore selling the track. "Economics dictate that we evaluate all of our options for this facility, including its possible sale," he said.

Harmeson said, however, he was not aware of any potential buyers. In addition, a sale would come too late to have any chance of bringing back the NASCAR events, because NASCAR will release its schedule for 2011 in about a month.

"I want to make clear that we have a lot of events left to go," he said. "I almost hate to say it, but we're focusing on finishing out the season and will evaluate the future after that."

But without races that feature drivers such as Kevin Harvick, winner of the recent truck race, Carl Edwards of Columbia, Mo., who won the Nationwide event, or the Wallace family former St. Louisans Kenny, Mike and Steven the track could be hard-pressed to continue operating.

The track took a hit recently when a power outage delayed the Camping World.com 200 truck race. Originally scheduled for July 16, the race was held the following afternoon, just before the Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers 250 race in the Nationwide series. Fans with tickets to the truck race were allowed to attend the Nationwide race as well.

Harmeson said that combining the events made it difficult to estimate attendance this year versus previous years. Dover Motorsports does not release attendance figures.

Harmeson added that the rest of the season at Gateway would proceed as planned. The major events remaining on the schedule are the American Drag Racing League Gateway Drag Days, Aug. 6-7, and the NASCAR Nationwide Series race on Oct. 23, at which Danica Patrick is scheduled to run. The latter race has yet to attract a title sponsor.

Safe for now is the track's other main attraction, the National Hot Rod Association, which hosted the Midwest Nationals in May.

"Dover alerted our management team to this announcement today and indicated their intention is to continue to run it as a drag-racing facility," said Anthony Vestal, the NHRA's director of media relations.

In addition to the national drag-racing events, Gateway attracts local drag racers to dozens of races a year. The facility, which seats about 55,000, also features a road course, though none of the drag-racing or road course events attract the crowds that are drawn to a NASCAR event.

Patrick McKeehan, executive director of Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, said Dover Motorsports had made "tremendous efforts" to offer race fans an attractive schedule of events. "We hope they find a way to remain a major venue in our area."

Dover Motorsports has owned Gateway since 1998, when it bought the track from its original developer, Chris Pook. Gateway has hosted Nationwide events since 1997, when it was known as the Busch Series, a step below NASCAR's premiere Sprint Cup Series. The track hosted its first truck series race in 1998. Until 2003, Gateway also hosted an annual open-wheel race under the auspices of the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) and the Indy Racing League, the precursors to the Izod Indy Racing series.

Harmeson said that Gateway employed only 10 to 12 people full-time and that he would evaluate their status at the end of the season.

The loss of the races could have a more profound impact on the surrounding communities, however. Madison Mayor John Hamm said the city garnered about $150,000 in revenue yearly from track events and said not having NASCAR events will likely reduce that number significantly.

"We'll have to tighten our belts a little bit," the mayor said.

Terry Hillig and Ken Roberts of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

 

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