Imagine cars racing down Lake Shore Drive at 130 mph, burning tires on South Michigan Avenue and vying for bumper-to-bumper position on Balbo Drive. Welcome to the new rush hour in Chicago.
The city announced Tuesday that it will transform the area around Grant Park into NASCAR’s first street race for a weekend next summer. The televised Cup Series event will feature a 12-turn, 2.2-mile course, with NASCAR’s top drivers zipping through the park on closed streets lined with temporary fencing, grandstands and what promoters hope will be thousands of fans.
“This is going to be our first race on a street course in our 75-year history,” said Ben Kennedy, NASCAR senior vice president of racing development and strategy. “I think it’s going to be a very unique course.”
The NASCAR race will take place on Sunday, July 2, with plans for a separate sports car race scheduled for July 1. Chicago Street Race will also feature music and entertainment in an effort to attract Grant Park attendees and much-needed hospitality and tourism revenue to the city.
NASCAR, which is promoting the event, selling tickets and building the track, will pay rental fees to the Chicago Park District for use of Grant Park, but terms of the three-year deal with the city were not disclosed. .
“I think it’s going to be one of the most iconic racetracks in history, and it’s going to introduce a whole new fan base to what NASCAR is all about in the city of Chicago,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at a news conference Tuesday. . “The opportunity to really ignite our tourism with an iconic new event on the calendar was an opportunity not to be missed.”
While the street course has been tested in simulations, the proposed length of the race has yet to be determined, Kennedy said.
The Chicago Street Race is scheduled to be one of 36 events in the NASCAR Cup Series, which runs from February through November and includes such well-known races as the Daytona 500 and newcomers such as the Enjoy Illinois 300, which held its first NASCAR event last month at a track outside of St. Louis.
Most NASCAR tracks range from quarter-mile to 2½-mile banked ovals, but the Florida-based stock car racing sanctioning body holds several road-course events, including Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, which was home to a Cup Series race. July 3. That track will be removed from the NASCAR Cup Series next summer to make way for the Chicago event.
Chicago’s proposed tour will begin on Columbus Drive in front of Buckingham Fountain, an area that will also serve as pit road. From there, drivers will go south to Balbo Drive and then jog east to Jean Baptiste Point DuSable Lake Shore Drive. Heading south along the lake, drivers will turn west on Roosevelt Road, returning north on Columbus Drive in a rough figure eight that will encompass a portion of South Michigan Avenue before reaching the start/finish line.
Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Daniel Suarez and other top NASCAR drivers are expected to compete in Chicago. Its race cars, which can reach 200 miles per hour, will likely peak at a much lower speed on the Chicago street circuit, Kennedy said.
“We’re still running simulations to find out,” Kennedy said. “I guess in the neighborhood of 120+ or higher at top speed. And then on the low end, we’ll probably be similar to the speed of the cars driving through Grant Park right now.”
Streets will be closed to traffic for an undetermined amount of time before, during and after the race, Kennedy said.
While barriers will be erected to keep drivers and spectators safe, the extent of the road closures during the race has not been disclosed.
“We’re going to try to keep as many of the streets open as long as we can,” Kennedy said. “Much of the construction will only happen overnight. Therefore, the walls and fences will probably enter the streets before their time. And then they will wait until the last minute to close the corners.”
The most dangerous lap may well have taken place on Tuesday afternoon, when NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace zoomed around the track in real Chicago traffic, led by a police escort.
Wallace, who drives the No. 23 Toyota Camry for a racing team headed by former Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan, is the only black driver in the NASCAR Cup Series. Reaching a new audience in Chicago could help broaden NASCAR’s fan base, he said Tuesday.
“I think exposing the sport in this area, downtown, with so much going on while the race is going on, is very important,” Wallace said. “Then you’ll get the next Bubba Wallace who’s sitting in the stands like I was when I was 9 years old (saying), ‘I want to do this one day, but I want to be better.’ And I’m going to wish him good luck.”
This isn’t the first NASCAR race to be held in Chicago, nor is it the first time the city has aspired to turn Lake Shore Drive into a racetrack.
Soldier Field hosted a NASCAR Cup Series race in July 1956. A quarter-century later, then-Mayor Jane Byrne’s ambitious plan to hold a Formula One race on Lake Shore Drive in the summer of 1981 never came to fruition. to the starting line.
This time around, the course will stay north of Soldier Field and south of the infamous S-curve on DuSable Lake Shore Drive.
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The Chicago area has been home to the NASCAR circuit in recent years, with Chicagoland Speedway at the Joliet track hosting several races since it opened in 2001. But the 1.5-mile oval has essentially been sitting idle since NASCAR acquired it. in 2019 as part of a $2 billion merger deal with International Speedway Corp.
More recently, the track has been used as parking for thousands of Ford trucks built at the Chicago assembly plant and awaiting computer chips during the current global shortage of semiconductors that has disrupted car production.
Kennedy said NASCAR will bring racing back to Chicagoland Speedway at some point, but declined to give a specific timeline.
Chicago tourism has been hit hard and slow to recover from the pandemic, with the city receiving 30.7 million visitors last year, up 86% from 2020 but still well below previous years to the pandemic, when the city regularly welcomed more than 50 million visitors a year. . Hotel occupancy has increased this summer and the city expects to see tourism returns to the pre-pandemic levels for 2024.
Important events such as the nfl draft and the lollapalooza The summer music festival, held annually in Grant Park, can significantly increase tourist numbers and create a million-dollar economic impact on the city. Whether hosting a NASCAR race on the city streets around Grant Park does the same remains to be seen.
“I would be lying if I said this was not a huge risk, but at the same time, also a huge opportunity,” Kennedy said. “Being on NBC the weekend of July 4, just the backdrop and the optics of downtown Chicago and Lake Michigan, will certainly be a sight for us next year.”