(This story originally appeared as exclusive content on the Verizon INDYCAR Mobile app.)
MADISON, Illinois – As a real estate developer in the greater St. Louis area, Curtis Francois remembers driving by the Gateway Motorsports Park when it was shuttered in 2010 and seeing a “diamond in the rough.”
Francois wanted to turn it into something the area could be proud of and bring Verizon IndyCar Series racing back to the track that sits across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.
About the same time, John Bommarito recalls driving by Gateway and thinking, “What a shame.” The man who oversees the Bommarito Automotive Group saw potential in the facility and began to think how a prosperous Gateway Motorsports Park could help his vast network of auto dealerships.
“I can’t take credit for seeing the vision but I passed that motorsports park. I had the willpower but didn’t have the knowledge,” Bommarito said. “That is how I came across Curtis. He had the dream and vision.
“We are a dynamic team and we are just getting started.”
Francois, a former racer (shown above talking with Verizon IndyCar Series driver Helio Castroneves), purchased the assets of Gateway in 2011. After forming an alliance with Bommarito to sponsor a proposed Verizon IndyCar Series event, the duo will see their efforts play out in tonight’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline. It is the first Indy car race held at the 1.25-mile oval since 2003.
“I loved the demographic of the INDYCAR fan and they are underserved in our area right now,” Francois said. “We knew if we could get an INDYCAR race here, we would have great support in the community.
“When I heard the racetrack was closing, I thought, ‘What are they thinking?’ It just needed to be in the hands of a local businessman who took pride in the facility and would pour the resources into it to make sure not only I had the passion for it, but the people in St. Louis saw the passion that we have.”
Francois believes the Verizon IndyCar Series is on the right track by reaching out to a younger demographic. He believes there is great growth ahead of INDYCAR and that his track will be part of it.
“We are looking at a long-term deal with INDYCAR and, over five to 10 years, we are going to build something serious together here in St. Louis,” Francois said.
Bommarito’s financial assistance and support have been “such a blessing,” according to Francois. But Bommarito sees it as another way to build pride in the St. Louis region.
“Curtis Francois and myself take this very seriously,” Bommarito said. “That is a big honor. What we have done is work really, really hard. We are going to have a huge turnout for this weekend. You are going to be surprised by the turnout we have for this race.
“We are a key race for the series now. It will be historical for the St. Louis region. We are putting racing in St. Louis for many, many years to come.”
The Bommarito Automotive Group includes 20 franchises in the region.
“We’re a 45-year company here in the St. Louis marketplace,” Bommarito said. “When you see what INDYCAR has done for the series and the drivers and the teams and the quality and culture that it has brought forth, it mirrors what we like to do in business. They have brought us into the family and taught us a lot about the business.
“We are positioning our company with a huge brand – the Verizon IndyCar Series.”
The Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline airs live at 9 p.m. ET today on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.