ST. LOUIS -- Kevin Eichner says he feels as if he is sitting in the driver's seat. He's about to turn a casual fan's interest in motor sports into a money-making operation.
Eichner's dream will become reality this month when the St. Louis International Raceway has its grand opening.
'I'm a fan of racing; it's a hobby,' said Eichner, who began driving sports cars three years ago. 'Most people who turn a hobby into a business venture wind up putting all their own money into it.
'I looked at the race track strictly as a business proposition,' said Eichner, who holds a master's degree in business from Harvard. 'Racing is not a game; it's a business.'
St. Louis, the 14th largest metropolitan area in the country, has been inspected by such racing heavyweights as Bill France Jr., president of the International Speedway Corp., and Jim Trueman, owner of the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Their concept for a raceway was a $70 million project. Eichner, 34, and president of The Financial Collaborative, used an existing drag strip facility, and developed a $2 million venture.
'We visited five or six major facilities in the United States while they were having events to see if we could make it work,' Eichner said. 'This is an untapped market for motor sports. France's $70 million investment was too much.
'We went with the road course concept where we have maximum flexibility. NASCAR is the only type of racing event we can't have. We have 126 events lined up this year. We can have any type of racing here you can think of from grand prix cars to motocross to go-karts.'
In addition to racing events, the raceway will offer a driver's school with professional teachers to give people a chance to learn to race. Also, such events as the Car Craft National will be held at the track.
The 2.2-mile racetrack, situated on 150 acres, is located in Fairmont City in Illinois, just five minutes from downtown St. Louis.
'Most tracks are 50 to 60 miles from a metropolitan area,' Eichner said. He said he spent about a year putting together a group of investors to get the track organized. Each member invested $30,000.
After raising $300,000, a budget was developed. The group received a $1.3 million loan from Southside National Bank of St. Louis, with each partner responsible for 10 percent of the amount. Because of a wet fall last year, an additional $700,000 was obtained from the St. Clair (Illinois) County Bank.
Eichner said he thinks the group will make money the first year.
'There are so many ways to make money at the raceway. For the investor, it's really a fixed investment as sponsors take over the other costs. You just have to have the facility used as frequently as you can.'
The ways to make money at the track include ticket sales, concessions, sponsorships, merchandising, driver's school, advertising and selling signs.
'There are lots of ways to make money but you have to create an inventory of events to attract sponsors and spectators,' Eichner said. 'That's why we're so excited. We got a mixed bag of events.'
All the major sanctioning bodies will have events this year at the track with the exception of CART and USAC, which sanction Indy-type cars.
'St. Louis is a real hotbed for racing participants,' Eichner said. 'There are 10,000 certified racing drivers in an eight-hour radius of St. Louis. Most events are held on the coasts so having this track here represents a natural stopover point.
'The racing bodies were anxious to have a well-run track located in the middle of the country. They control the inventory. If you can't convince them you have a good track, you can't get the events.'
The raceway is expected to have a significant economic impact on the St. Louis area. Eichner estimates the track will generate $14 million for the local economy in the first season.