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Pedley: Farewell, Little Track That Couldn’t

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, October 22 2010

The lights are about to go out at Gateway International Raceway. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

I thought the parking attendant guy had directed me to major trouble the first time I attended an event at Gateway International Raceway. T-bone trouble. I thought that as I inched my way through the cross-over and across backstretch and could see cars coming out of Turn 2.

But that’s Gateway. Always a little bit different from other major race tracks. Always just a bit behind.

Which is probably why this appears to be the last weekend of major NASCAR racing for the track in St. Louis which is not really in St. Louis.

Not many will miss racing at Gateway in the wake of its admission that it can no longer afford the Nationwide and Camping World series.

They won’t even miss it in Eastern Missouri and Western Illinois, judging from attendance at events since, well, almost forever.

Me? I will. Kind of.

Mostly because of great memories. Like:

– My first interview with Juan Pablo Montoya, who was testing an CART Series car there. He was as brash as an unknown rookie as he is as a Indianapolis 500 winner.

– My first interview with Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won the Nationwide race there late one night.

– Driving a rental car there from Indy in the hectic days leading up to the 500 only to find out that Chip Ganassi had chartered an airplane for the media.

– Watching the Cardinals play from a hotel room in downtown St. Louis from which I could see into Busch Stadium.

– Visiting the bowling hall of fame.

But I will also miss Gateway because of the bizarre nature at the place.

See, I like quirkiness when it comes to sports. (Mostly because quirkiness in sports – as opposed to quirkiness in politics and medical research – seldom leaves people dead or disfigured).

And Gateway was the King of Quirk when it came to race tracks.

The track itself is good quirky. Kind of Darlington without the high banks. An elongated egg shape. Corners which were all different and, well, quirky.

The track is kind of technical and very challenging to drivers. And, to fans as well.

Gateway was always kind of shabby. The garages were small and had no sides or doors. There is very little parking. Traffic sucks. One recent race had to be postponed because the lights went off and never came back up. Typical, I said to myself as I watched the blackout race on TV.

Attempts were made over the years to spruce the place up – a tunnel to the infield was added a couple years back – but the end result was a track that was shabby but spruced up.

The people who worked there always felt that they deserved – and were on the verge of getting – a Sprint Cup date. And that was cool. They loved their track to the point of ignoring its problems the way grandfathers ignore their nose hair.

I would get cornered from time to time over the last decade by a track official or PR person who insisted the place was up to Cup standards. Until one day when I ran into the PR person at an early race at sparkling Kansas Speedway. He said, basically, he then understood.

I have never really understood the empty grandstands at Gateway. Fans face the kind of traffic problems and parking oddness which Gateway presented at other tracks, as well.

The area has nice history when it comes to racing. The Wallaces grew up there. Kenny Schrader was a hometown hero. Carl Edwards is just a 2-hour driver away. Budweiser and other companies connected to racing are stationed there.

But the locals never really took to the place.

I haven’t been back to the place for a while. Editors at my former newspaper in Kansas City stopped believing that covering races there was worth the cost of sending people. And I won’t be there this weekend, either, as other duties call.

But I truly wish I was headed over. It is one of those places that fans won’t really miss until it’s gone.

I will remember it as the little track sitting across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. Sitting there all tattered and lonely, looking at the shiny steel arch, the bright lights and gleaming skyscrappers and feeling so close yet so far away from all the excitement.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, October 22 2010
2 Comments

2 Comments »

  • larry davis says:

    It’s a real shame to lose this race track. I’m sorry the owner was encouraged by Dover to increase the size of the oval and now they walk away. NHRA has been highly successful with their races at Gateway. Let’s hope that somehow Gateway, the dragstrip, will survive and NHRA will come back. Without Nascar and the return of NHRA would make the dragstrip even more successful.

  • Terry says:

    It is like Atlanta Memphis and some other area’s……demographics
    They are losing older race fans and gaining younger NBA crowd…
    Kansas City is pulling the race fans and is not a NBA town…..yet