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Benjamin Hochman: East bound and round (and round) -- St. Louis to experience NASCAR in 2022, thanks to this pair

Benjamin Hochman, St. Louis Post-Dispatch on

Published in Auto Racing

ST. LOUIS — They originally called it the Chili Bowl since the sponsors sold pre-made chili. But the name lived on for this no-frills racing expo and event where, if you sit close enough to the dirt clay track, you can get splattered with what, come to think of it, looks like chili.

Racing folks from garages of all sizes come each year to the Chili Bowl, this grassroots event in Oklahoma that’s part-trade show, part-indoor race and part-party.

“And those guys saw us there, dirt in the air, drinking a beer and just having a good time — and it connected,” said Chris Blair, the executive vice president, general manager of World Wide Technology Raceway. “Everything we do is genuine.”

So, “those guys” Blair referred to were top executives from NASCAR. They watched Blair and WWTR owner Curtis Francois in their element, two unpresumptuous personalities who understand the racing fan. This was just another example of why the team at WWTR seemed like likable partners.

So it was fitting that Francois was at this January’s Chili Bowl when a NASCAR exec told him the news — St. Louis was leading the race to get a race.

The checkered flag waved Wednesday. NASCAR announced that a Cup Series race will take place at WWTR on June 5, 2022. It’s actually happening.

 

“It’s kind of like ‘Smokey And The Bandit,’ ” Blair said of “East Bound And Down,” the movie’s famous theme song. “We’re ‘gonna’ do what they say can’t be done. They told us it couldn’t be done. And Curtis made it happen.”

Francois and Blair are like our town’s “Bandit” and “Snowman,” clever and charming yet disarming on this endeavor. Their relationship has been integral in the growth of the track and the realization of this octane-fueled NASCAR dream. They had a hell of a time doing this — but they had a hell of a time doing this.

Speaking on stage at Ballpark Village, in front of hundreds of St. Louis big-wigs Wednesday, the 57-year-old Francois got choked up as he said: “There’s a guy by the name of Chris Blair somewhere out there. We share so many moments together. And it’s just an amazing relationship to see a man that is so passionate about racing. He works night and day to promote the racetrack, and his love of the sport runs deep. We’re blessed to have him on the team.”

They first met 10 years ago this month.

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