ST. LOUIS — Curtis Francois owns a racetrack - World Wide Technology Raceway - branded for the business that David L. Steward founded and now serves as chairman. As a former professional race car driver, Francois would appeal to Steward, who is something of a passionate amateur racer, along with his son, David Steward II.
Even more, Francois saving the racetrack from the wrecking ball in 2011 would impress these entrepreneurs and racing fans. Entertainment thrives in a Metro East space that might have been laid to waste and reinvests in the local community - now with the support of World Wide Technology and the Steward Family Foundation.
"Dave II and I continue to be impressed with the energy and commitment Curtis brings to the raceway and his dedication to improving the quality of life for all of us in the St. Louis and southwest Illinois region," David L. Steward said of his business partner.
"My family and I are honored to partner with Curtis, who made bringing a NASCAR Cup race to World Wide Technology Raceway possible with his vision and strong execution. The Enjoy Illinois 300, coupled with the Confluence Music festival highlights the Gateway region on the world stage for an entire weekend. Our community is enriched by all that Curtis, his family, and his team are doing, and we are having a lot of fun together along the way."
Thinking that a business partner of Dave Steward is someone of interest to our readers, The St. Louis American asked Francois about the race track, working with the Stewards, and what they are doing to diversify their audience and reinvest in the community.
The St. Louis American: What is new and next for World Wide Technology Raceway?
Curtis Francois: WWTR is continuing work on an aggressive investment plan that will ultimately represent a $100 million investment by 2025, including land acquisition and fan enhancements.
When I purchased the raceway in 2011, it consisted of 150 acres. Today, after many purchases, including Gateway National Golf Course, the property spans more than 700 acres. This ensures the track continues to offer many styles of racing as well as accommodate the crowds and camping enthusiasts who flock to these major events. In fact, it is the only venue in the country to host NASCAR, INDYCAR and NHRA events.
The fan experience continues to evolve with new multi-million-dollar investment for the infield fan zone with up-close garage access in time for the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series race on June 4, 2023.
Global touring artists will headline the Confluence Music Festival, to be announced soon. It will feature multiple stages and multiple genres over the weekend.
Driver Appearances are an important part of our community commitment. In 2022, we hosted Daniel Suarez in Fairmont City with Hispanic youth who loved their time with him; and driver Bubba Wallace presented a Raceway Gives racing scholarship to a deserving metro east student.
Jackie Joyner Kersee will be the Grand Marshal of the 2023 Enjoy Illinois 300 NASCAR Cup Series race and will host the first-ever 5K run named in her honor. The JJK 5K will be held on Saturday June 3 – on the same 1.25-mile oval track that the NASCAR drivers race around.
The St. Louis American: Do you see evidence of increasing interest/ participation in NASCAR and other racing activities by African Americans? What are you doing to reach that audience?
Curtis Francois: Absolutely. Drivers like Bubba Wallace and Rajah Caruth are making tremendous strides in engaging fans of color. Hosting these drivers in the community when they are in town is an important step in raising awareness and inviting new fans to enjoy racing.
Further, Raceway Gives is the philanthropic arm of World Wide Technology Raceway to foster transformational change in the Metro-East communities surrounding the raceway. Through grassroots partnerships, Raceway Gives leverages the resources of the raceway and technology associated with motorsports to excite area youth about STEM education.
Raceway Gives touches on essential community issues by consciously partnering with schools and youth organizations serving underserved Black and brown students from economically challenged communities.
Raceway Gives has a long-standing partnership with the Jackie Joyner Kersee Center in East St. Louis to deliver STEM experiences through motorsports to the youth served through Jackie’s organization. The raceway and Jackie’s center are just minutes apart and both organizations share a dedication to improving the lives of Metro East kids. The collaboration has won national attention, earning the 2021 Comcast Community Champion award, which recognizes the most compelling motorsports-related community contributions across the nation.
Raceway Gives has installed racing simulators at the center, hosts special guests to talk with the kids, and offers many opportunities for them to visit and interact at the track. The JJK Center is one of 16 regional youth organizations to take part in the Raceway Gives STEM outreach initiative, coined the Junior 500, which teaches teamwork and technology through the exhilarating experience of competitive kart racing.
In 2022, Raceway Gives in partnership with Dave Steward II and the Steward Family Foundation awarded Metro-East student Josiah Unaeze an advanced karting scholarship from Raceway Gives in 2022. He earned the need-based scholarship based on his interest and enthusiasm for motorsports, and the award was presented to him personally by NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace. This was an inspiring moment for a bright young man.
Lastly, WWTR and Raceway Gives used the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series race as the launch for Raceway Gives Community Champions. This new initiative creates and supports hyper-local programs that boost community pride through physical improvements to public spaces and special event opportunities. In June 2022, a large section of highway retaining wall and two buildings were selected by regional leaders for mural artwork created by local artists Cbabi Bayoc, Mykael Ash and Korbin King. Collaborating organizations include: Illinois Department of Transportation; Bi-State Development; Lorenzo Savage, CEO and co-founder of I Am EStL the Foundation; and building owner Keith Mocabee.
The St. Louis American: What has it been like working with David Steward? What has he brought to the business?
Curtis Francois: From the moment I met Dave, I knew I had met a new friend. We share a common viewpoint of working to make the world a better place. Dave is an inspirational person and has shown me the depth of the word "generosity." I’ve learned so much working with him, not only from a business standpoint but also what it means to be someone that lives their life as an example for others.
One of the first things he said to me as we discussed our naming rights partnership was: to think big. Think about the things that can make transformational change. From that point forward we redoubled our efforts together to make a difference in the St. Louis region.
I’ll never forget standing with Dave at the start-finish line in front of packed stands at the inaugural NASCAR Cup Series race last year. Two B-1 bombers were flying overhead as Kennedy Holmes sang the National Anthem with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. After working so hard to make this happen, standing there with him and watching it all come together was an amazing feeling of joy and a moment I will never forget.
He has leveraged the power of World Wide Technology and his personal commitments to helps us strengthen our relationship with NASCAR and help drive significant change within motorsports. His work has directly helped create a path for Black and brown drivers to race at the highest level.
It’s hard to describe the amount of respect I have for Dave Steward. Suffice to say: he has been an inspiration and mentor to me, and I am eternally grateful to him.
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