At age 7, he started driving a pickup on his family’s farm. When he was 12, his father gave him the keys to a 1968 Ford truck to drive around the property. Curtis Francois got the racing bug early and hasn’t shaken it. Fast forward to a Tuesday night in March: It’s 7:30, and the husband and father of two is observing drag-racing in the pits at his track, Gateway Motorsports Park. You do what you love. So this real estate developer does the real estate stuff in the morning, and then goes to the track and stays late.
Francois simply says, “This is the path I have chosen. It’s all good. I am learning.”
Francois graduated from Westminster Christian Academy in 1982 and began racing competitively at age 26. He has raced in more leagues than Octavio Dotel has had teams. We are talking SCCA Club Racing, IMA, Grand-Am, INDYCAR and NASCAR. He has raced with 40,000 watching and with just 200 in the stands.
Francois wants to fill the stands at Gateway, which re-opened March 17. He has hit the track burning rubber. He got the NHRA to agree to a long-term deal. He is planning on more than 100 live events per year, and wants the average person to experience—after some training— the feel of driving fast at Gateway.
FASTEST YOU HAVE EVER DRIVEN A CAR? 215 mph.
MOST DANGEROUS EPISODE IN A RACE? Head-on collision with the wall at Charlotte at 160 mph. I knew it was coming, and I braced myself. I had no injuries, thanks to the HANS device, which protects your head and neck.
HOW DID YOUR WIFE, AMY, REACT? She was glad I was OK.
WHY DID YOU QUIT? My family was young. The demands on racing keep you on the road quite a bit. I wanted to be home.
WHY DID YOU TAKE THIS RISK WITH GATEWAY? The St. Louis area was going to lose a major league sports facility, and Gateway is the largest outdoor venue in the region. We are talking 80,000 seats. I had to do something about it. I believe we can create a racing lifestyle that attracts a wide variety.
HOW WILL YOU MAKE IT WORK? First, we want to promote our drag-racing venue as the longest this region has ever had. We feel we can introduce this incredible sport to people who haven’t had the thrill of driving on the track. I want people to get that thrill.
FAMOUS PEOPLE YOU’VE RACED AGAINST? Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Robbie McGehee and Paul Newman. I raced against Paul Newman in the Rolex 24 at Daytona. I didn’t run into him on the track. However, when we were running to our cars in the pits, we ran into each other. We both said, Excuse me.
5 THINGS I THINK:
1. There may not be crying in baseball, but there is in basketball. I am talking about the NCAA Tournament. After a loss, there’s more crying than in Terms of Endearment.
2. Two And A Half Men may still be getting ratings, but that show without Charlie Sheen is like the Colts without Peyton Manning. It doesn’t work. I want to laugh, but I can’t.
3. Hockey players are the most humble athletes we have. They just have an appreciation for everything they get.
4. Ryan Rosburg may not be the next Steve Stipanovich, but he plays so hard and he is so big, I think he is going to have a fine career at Mizzou.
5. The greatest sports agent of all time works in Clayton, every day. Tom Condon represents both Mannings, Drew Brees, Tony Romo, Matthew Stafford, Alex Smith and Matt Ryan. I would love to be related to him.
Frank Cusumano is a 14-time Emmy Award winner on KSDK-TV, and he also can be heard on 590 KFNS Radio.