Benjamin Hochman: NASCAR Cup Series race will come to St. Louis in 2022 at World Wide Technology Raceway
The best quality of the folks at World Wide Technology Raceway is, fittingly, drive.
Led by owner Curtis Francois, they have worked diligently, passionately and creatively to grow the track’s presence in racing.
And the culmination will be revealed Wednesday — a news conference at Ballpark Village to announce that a NASCAR Cup Series race is coming to the track just across the Mississippi River in Illinois, beginning in 2022. Multiple sources confirmed the reports to the Post-Dispatch on Monday.
The Sports Business Journal previously reported, per unnamed sources, that St. Louis was expected to get a Cup race, and that Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania would lose one.
Told of the news Monday night, retired NASCAR driver Kenny Wallace — a St. Louis native and local racing legend — texted: “This is a really big deal for St. Louis and the surrounding communities. … Our Wallace family grew up racing cars in a ball-and-stick town. Very seldom did we get a lot of love for auto racing. I feel like I’m living a good dream to hear the NASCAR Cup Series is coming to St. Louis. The Cup series is the highest division of motorsports in America.”
NASCAR in St. Louis. How cool does that sound?
And even if you’re not into racin’ — and the only Jeff Gordon in your life is the Post-Dispatch sports columnist — this news still is categorically cool, because it’s good for St. Louis. Money will be pumped into the economy on both sides of the river (the track is in Madison). And it’s just the latest great sporting event to arrive in our city since the Rams left.
Deemed unworthy of the National Football League by certain league executives, St. Louis continues to show up to events that actually want to be here. The 100th PGA Championship at Bellerive in 2018 had one of the larger crowds in that tournament’s history. The XFL’s St. Louis BattleHawks were by far the league’s attendance leaders. The US Gymnastics Trials and the NHL All-Star Game were considered great successes.
And just this past weekend, at the Ascension Charity Classic, the event at Norwood Hills Country Club set an attendance record for a first-time tournament on the PGA Champions Tour — 51,000 total. The golf event returns for the next three years, but Ascension executive vice president Nick Ragone said Monday: “The way this community has taken to this, we hope it’s in perpetuity. …
“The players have said that this felt like a PGA Tour event, because that’s the community, that’s St. Louis, that’s the fans, that’s the sponsorships, that’s the hospitality. That’s civic engagement, that’s all of that. And that’s something we in St. Louis have always known — that we were going to exceed expectations. And I think it’s a great reminder. We keep reminding the country with the PGA at Bellerive, with the Blues, with the Cards and now with soccer. We keep reminding the country that we have such an amazing, unique story here in St. Louis.”
Just like the success of St. Louis’ IndyCar race has caught the attention of NASCAR, the success of St. Louis’ PGA Champions Tour event hopefully will woo a PGA Tour event. The BMW Championship in 2008 was a success at Bellerive Country Club and would seem like a great fit as a Tour pit stop (to mix metaphors).
The local IndyCar race — the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 last month — again was a success. It’s become an annual sports staple.
In a 2019 interview with Francois, the savior of St. Louis auto racing said: “I think that any sanctioning body, including NASCAR, is going to look to see if there’s fan energy there and community support. And community support comes from the people in the community, but also from the business community. And events like this show that St. Louis demonstrates those things — and in a big way.
“The more that we can let everyone know that we’re motor sports town, and that we want bigger events and more events and NASCAR events and other events, the better. Because I think that accurately reflects the community and it accurately reflects where the motor sports fans are. They would love to see more racing here.”
St. Louis will have to brush up its “Shake & Bake” and other NASCAR references before next summer. We have some time to learn all about everything and everyone from the St. Louis racing Wallaces to Bubba Wallace, Kurt Busch to Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin (first in the Cup Series standings) to Derrike Cope (last in the standings).
Some of us already are experts. Some of us will grow our knowledge base. And some of us, well, will just be along for the ride. Because that’s the thing — it’ll be a unique St. Louis experience. Just being there will be worth the price of admission. It’ll be one of those events you’ll want to say you attended.
Stu Durando of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.