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Why a NASCAR Street Race in Downtown Chicago Makes Sense

V8 stock cars zooming by Michigan Ave. and Lake Shore Dr. Sign us up!
Lake Michigan. December 2003 getty

NASCAR and the City of Chicago have mutually endorsed a race in the streets of the Windy City that could take place as early as 2023, if a letter obtained by The Athletic is to be believed. The letter—acquired through a public records request—reportedly discusses an endorsement for an event that could take place in the heart of downtown for three consecutive years. Although a contract hasn’t been signed yet, an official announcement is reportedly scheduled for July 19.

Imagine stock cars zooming by the skyscrapers and high-end stores lining the iconic Michigan Avenue. The roar of the V8 engines echoing through the glass buildings as the cars cross the Chicago River. It’d be a sort of Monaco-like atmosphere but with wider streets and bigger (as well as louder) race cars. That’s the kind of event that’d make headlines not just domestically, but possibly even abroad, too.

“As Commissioner of the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), I am thrilled about the potential opportunity to host the NASCAR Street Course events here in Chicago,” said Erin Harkey to Ben Kennedy, NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing development and strategy in the letter, according to The Athletic. “DCASE is dedicated to enriching Chicago’s artistic vitality and cultural vibrancy, and our strong partnership with the Chicago Sports Commission ensures that NASCAR fans would be treated to a diverse and unforgettable experience.”

Should these plans come to fruition, it would mean a huge step forward in NASCAR’s efforts to penetrate new markets and cater to younger, more diverse audiences. Yes, Chicagoland Speedway has been on the NASCAR Cup Series calendar on and off for years, though it’s absent from this year’s schedule. However, comparing Chicagoland to downtown Chicago is very apples-to-oranges. The former caters to a more traditional stock-car racing audience, while the latter would open doors for the series.

Furthermore, Chicago is one of the U.S. metropolitan areas with the largest Hispanic population behind Texas and California. This would play well with NASCAR’s now-race-winning Mexican driver Daniel Suarez of Trackhouse Racing, a team co-owned by music superstar Pitbull. These demographics make a big impact on race attendance and can even influence where races happen, as Red Bull F1 driver Sergio Perez recently told me during an interview.

The idea of bringing NASCAR to downtown Chicago isn’t even new. Some version of a street race for either F1, IndyCar, and now NASCAR has long been rumored. But given the massive logistical nightmare that it’d be to close the busiest parts of the Windy City, nothing has ever materialized. This, however, seems to have legit backing from people that can make it happen.

A conceptual street course layout has already lived for about a year now on iRacing. The track, which you can see in the video above, crisscrosses through Lake Shore Drive, Grant Park, Michigan Ave., and other Chicago landmarks. It’d be great to see exactly this in the real world.

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