Curtis Francois, Gateway Motorsports Park
Curtis Francois is revving the engine at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill., with an $11.5 million investment in the 200-acre complex and more to come. A retired race car driver and the owner of Tamar Development, Francois, 49, bought Gateway in a complex real estate deal. Francois also got the NHRA to sign a 20-year deal to race at Gateway and plans to invest $20 million within five years at the complex, which includes a drag strip and a NASCAR oval.
I would not consider myself a risk taker. Others may see it as risk. I see it as careful preparation before moving forward, whether for a race or a business deal. It’s just part of my life.
Why make this investment?: We want to improve the fan and racing experience with added amenities and re-energize the grass roots. I have a passion for St. Louis, and I felt it was the right thing and the right time for St. Louis.
About those racing days: I started racing [at Gateway] in 1989 in club racing, then pro. I raced here maybe not hundreds of times, but close — everything from Formula cars, to LeMans vehicles, to Indy cars, to NASCAR. If it had four wheels and a steering wheel, I probably raced it.
Why get into racing?: When I was a teenager, I gave a professional racer a ride to the Lake of the Ozarks. Let’s just say I was driving faster than I should have. He didn’t say anything until we arrived. He set me up with a Sports Car Club of America driving school. It changed the course of my life. Fast on the street pales in comparison to fast at the racetrack. I drive slowly on the street.
Racing against Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Robby McGehee, even Paul Newman. What was that like?: You get to know all the racers in a competitive way. It was great to talk with legends in the sport.
About the deal with the NHRA: When I realized I was probably going to buy Gateway, I reached out to [NHRA President] Tom Compton and discussed my plans. I asked him, “If I do it, will you come?” We struck what was a handshake deal at first.
Career lessons learned from racing?: Being prepared: Doing your homework on car prep, learning the tracks, knowing your competition. Secondarily, it taught me to concentrate intently.