Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Stand-Up Fans Put Gateway on Track

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Stand-Up Fans Put Gateway on Track

Article excerpt

Chris Pook has a problem with St. Louis auto-racing fans.

"We've got to make them sit in their seats a little bit more. They want to stand for the whole race," Pook said, chuckling. "They have the same situation at Talladega. There's such a high level of enthusiasm . . ."

In a span of just over two months - 64 hectic days, to be precise - the refurbished Gateway facility that comprises 165 acres of Madison has worked its way into the hearts of devotees who had thirsted for years for major motorsports. They embraced the new facility beyond all reasonable expectations, and they certainly got their fill of action:

* The new 1.25-mile oval was christened with the Motorola 300, a Championship Auto Racing Teams Indy-car race May 24. The sellout crowd of 48,500 watched Team Penske's Paul Tracy make several daring passes in the final laps and grab the victory.

* The revamped quarter-mile drag strip was the site of the National Hot Rod Association's Sears Craftsman Nationals June 26-29. Some 101,300 - an NHRA record for a first-time event - watched the dragsters over the four days, including a full house of 25,000 for the elimination rounds.

* Most recently, NASCAR came to town. The Gateway 300, a Busch Grand National series event, sold out about a week before race day. A capacity crowd of 52,000 jammed the stands July 26 despite near 100-degree weather. Elliott Sadler won this 240-lap survival of the fittest; only 22 of the 42 cars were running at the end, as the oval's asphalt broke up in spots under the intense heat.

Pook was asked the 64-day question: How did you do?

"I'd give us a `B' grade," said Pook, head of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, which owns and operates Gateway. "I'm a pretty demanding guy. We have a lot more stuff to do to get an `A' . . . a lot more work.

"This is still very much a work in progress."

Pook, a driven 56-year-old who has been known to hold staff meetings at 6 a.m., is no stranger to the concept: Under his direction, prodding and pleading, the track's construction was accelerated three months so it could be ready for the CART race. The entire complex was leveled and rebuilt - a $25 million project - in 11 months. …

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