(Photo: Jay Alley/ARCA Racing)
When the green flag waves on Sunday’s Enjoy Illinois 300 presented by TicketSmarter at World Wide Technology Raceway Gateway, it will mark the start of the first race for the NASCAR Cup Series at the 1.25-mile oval located just across the Mississippi River from downtown St. Louis.
The track features a unique layout that includes Turns 1-2 being banked higher with a much tighter radius than that of Turns 3-4. The facility has been a part of the ARCA Menards Series schedule on a frequent basis since the current configuration’s first season in 1997. Series veteran Mark Gibson scored the first win of his career in the track’s inaugural ARCA Menards Series race, which was the second event contested on the then-new racing surface.
The 1997 race, though, was not the first time ARCA had contested a race on the property.
In May of 1986, Lombard, Illinois, veteran Bob Schacht took the win in the Busch ARCA 200 at St. Louis International Raceway, a 0.965-mile “modified oval” road course that sat on the same land World Wide Technology Raceway occupies today.
Schacht defeated future series champions Bob Keselowski and Bob Brevak, with Ken Rowley and Jim Jeffrey rounding out the top-five finishers. Gibson, who would go on to win on the property 11 years later on a new layout, finished 12th in a race that featured a pileup that eliminated several contenders in the sharp hairpin first turn on the opening lap.
There were 10 cautions, and 63 of the race’s 200 laps were run under yellow. Attrition was also a factor with only half of the race’s 26 starters seeing the checkered flag.
Other ARCA winners at World Wide Technology Raceway include Frank Kimmel in 2001, Ryan Hemphill in 2004, Joey Miller in 2005, Cale Gale in 2006 and Bryan Clauson in 2007. The series returned after an 11-year hiatus in 2018 with current NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Sheldon Creed scoring the first win of his career, propelling him to a season that saw him win four times and claim the series championship.
In 2019, a then 16-year-old Ty Gibbs thrilled the crowd by passing Sam Mayer in the final corner of the final lap to take the victory. Gibbs, in just his sixth series start, was joined in Victory Lane by his grandfather, Pro Football Hall of Fame head coach and NASCAR Hall of Fame team owner Joe Gibbs.
The younger Gibbs would win again in 2020, the last time the ARCA Menards Series raced at World Wide Technology Raceway, making him the only driver to win more than once at the track.
Gibbs defeated Chandler Smith in 2020, with Mayer, Max McLaughlin and Jesse Love rounding out the top-five finishers. Smith will return to the track this weekend to participate in in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race that will precede Sunday’s Cup Series race.
The 2021 ARCA Menards Series champion, Gibbs has moved on to the NASCAR Xfinity Series. He won in his series debut on the road course at Daytona International Speedway in 2021 and currently sits third in the series standings with three victories in 2022.
In 2018 and 2019, World Wide Technology Raceway also hosted a pair of combination races for the series now known as ARCA Menards Series East and West. Current NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Derek Kraus won the first one in 2018 while Spencer Davis won the second.
Other notables in the field in 2018 included Tyler Ankrum in sixth, Ryan Vargas in 13th and Hailie Deegan in 23rd. Notables in the 2019 field included Kraus in second, Deegan in seventh and Jack Wood in ninth.