Sometimes we overlook the landmass between L.A. and N.Y.C. (OK Chicago, we acknowledge you, but mainly because of our friends at AMS), but the truth is there’s a ton of great racing in the heartland on racetracks that don’t get their fair share of the glory. Gateway Motorsports Park, formerly known as Gateway International Raceway (and St. Louis Raceway Park and St. Louis International Speedway before that), is a perfect example of this.
Located just across the Mississippi River from downtown St. Louis, Gateway has been an integral part of the Midwest motorsports scene since opening its gates in 1967 as an eighth-mile dragstrip, expanded to a quarter-mile in 1971. It wasn’t until 1985 that the original 2.6-mile road course was built, with parts of the dragstrip serving as straights on two separate parts of the circuit. This road course played host to some significant events in the mid-’80s, including Trans-Am, Can-Am, and plenty of SCCA action of both the regional and national variety.
In 1995, a new owner, Formula 1 and CART promoter Chris Pook, bought the facility and promptly tore up the road course and replaced it with the 1.25-mile oval and a 1.6-mile infield road course that exists today. This remodeling probably went over like a lead balloon with local road racers but no doubt appealed greatly to NASCAR fans and left-turns-only racers in the region.
Mercifully, the infield road course isn’t the boring afterthought that’s often the case at oval tracks—Gateway’s seven-turn “roval” (meaning a road course that uses part of the oval) is actually a ton of fun to drive and presents some unique challenges, as we learned when attending a Redline Time Attack there back in 2007.
Turn 7 may be the most important corner on the track, since it leads up onto the mildly banked oval and marks the beginning of a high-speed thrill ride around to Turn 1 (AMS driver Mark Daddio hit a 152 mph in the famous and now “racin’ in Jamaica, mon” Evo time attack machine during the ’07 Redline event), but for us the best part of the circuit is actually the surprisingly fast and flowing infield section, especially left-right-left combo that leads into the fast-entry but decreasing-radius Turn 5/6, which is a real patience tester.
In low-power cars with lots of grip, say a Mazda Miata on r-comps, you can actually go flat out through 3 and 4, but in more powerful machines, some braking is needed before getting back on the gas to balance the car through the apex. Misjudge your entry speed and at the very least you’re going to run wide, where the track falls off-camber and the walls start to loom large, resulting in a loss of momentum and (if you have a fragile ego like us) confidence.
Now it’s really ego-check time. You lost a bit of time through 3 and 4 by being too aggressive with your entry speeds, so you’re hungry to make up for it. Like an asphalt temptress, you’re now staring down the wide-open entry to Turn 5. Time to attack! Um, no. Patience, young Padawan, because if you fall into this newb trap, you’re going to find yourself going faster than the decreasing radius T6 that immediately follows, meaning you’re going to either run wide on the exit of 6 and get out into the grass where there’s a big bump that’ll get you airborne, or you’re going to lift off the throttle while adding more steering angle, and that, my friends, is what we call a recipe for crashiness.
Some of you may remember Gateway closing up shop back in late 2010, but luckily for you Midwest speed freaks, new owners reopened the facility in September 2012 and plans are afoot for improvements, including a nationally sanctioned kart track. The focus of the new owners seems to be on drag racing, but given that one of the owners is former Indy Lights driver Curtis Francois, we think it’s safe to say St. Louisan and Midwest road racers and time attackers will continue to have access to Gateway’s ballsy and deceivingly technical infield circuit.
Gateway Motorsports Park
Location Madison, Illinois
Track Configuration 1.6-mile, 7-turn, counterclockwise roval circuit
Elevation Change 9-degree banking (oval turns 3 and 4)
Other Facilities 2 Oval Grandstands (60,000 seating capacity), quarter-mile dragstrip with grandstand (25,000 seating capacity), nationally sanctioned kart track (under construction), autocross-friendly parking lot