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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

They were seated at the same table at a NHRA track operators’ meeting in California. Blair was doing big things at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. But he’s from Kentucky. Had been eyeing a return to his roots in the Midwest. Sure enough, more than a year later, Blair came to St. Louis to meet with Francois. They were at Café Napoli.

“He told me about his vision,” Blair said of growing WWTR into a home for IndyCar and — dare they dream? — NASCAR. “I just saw how passionate he was about what he wanted to do. You know, I believed it!”

During a layover on his flight back to Vegas, Blair received a message from a force in the racing world — John Force, the legendary NHRA drag racer.

“He said,” the 51-year-old Blair recalled, “‘Hey, I met this Curtis guy. And I know you. And the two of you belong together.’ So I’ve got John Force calling me! It’s real early 2013. So I’m like, ‘OK, let’s give this a shot.’ So we got here, and we just clicked.

“I always said I didn’t want to ever get too close to my boss. But he’s become one of my best friends. So we work together and a lot of the crazy ideas I come up with, he supports. It just always has worked. We were kind of on the same page. … So, we started chipping away.”

Blair used his NASCAR connections to help get a truck series race to St. Louis. Soon, they were tracking people down at IndyCar tracks, aggressively networking to make IndyCar a WWTR reality.

 

“A couple years ago, he told me, ‘I’m going to try to get a Cup race.’ ” Blair said. “And I thought, ‘Well, this is going to be the hardest thing we could ever pull off.’

“But if anybody ever needed to write a book about the ‘art of the deal,’ it’s Curtis. The one thing I found is if I could ever introduce Curtis to somebody, they fell in love with him. They buy in. They see the passion. And it was just that gradual process, and we just kept working and working and working.”

The jetsetters met folks everywhere from Daytona to the Chili Bowl.

“We both get really emotional because this racetrack has been like raising a kid,” Blair said after Wednesday’s event. “Today, when he mentioned my name, I thought, ‘Man, I got to look away!’ As I turn, I start crying like a baby. It’s been something just so important to all of us. For me, I feel like I’ve never really had a real job a day in my life — 40 years I’ve worked in racing. It’s what I love.

“And to be able to do what we’ve done?”

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