By Jerry Jordan, Editor
CHICAGO – NASCAR will return to the Chicago area for the first time in four years but this time, rather than racing at the Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Il., the Cup Series will thunder through the streets of downtown Chicago along the waterfront.
The move is the newest in NASCAR’s bag of tricks in shaking up the series schedule and trying out new ideas at new venues. The 2022 season kicked off with The Clash at the Coliseum in Los Angeles. Now, there’s a street course and NASCAR will take the green flag on July 2, 2023. Joining NASCAR for the weekend, and racing on July 1, 2023, will be the IMSA sports car series, which has experience on street courses.
“Like the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum, we seized an incredible opportunity to add an unprecedented element to our schedule and take center stage in the heart of another major metropolitan market,” said Ben Kennedy, NASCAR senior vice president of racing development and strategy. “This is the ideal setting for the first-ever NASCAR Cup Series street race.
“The NASCAR Cup Series Next Gen cars and the IMSA machines will race along the shores of Lake Michigan in downtown Chicago, marking a truly historic moment for our sport. We are very appreciative of Mayor Lori Lightfoot and her team, along with the entire City of Chicago for working with us to make this concept a reality.”
The announcement, made July 19 at a press conference held in the shadow of the NBC Tower, marks the first time NASCAR has held a street course event other than its Pinty’s Series in Canada, which races through the streets of Toronto. On hand for the event were key representatives of the sanctioning body, including Steve Phelps, NASCAR President, and Ben Kennedy, Sr. Vice President of Racing Development and Strategy. On behalf of the city of Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who stood alongside the NASCAR delegation, said she sees the venture as a huge benefit for her city.
“Chicago’s streets are as iconic as our skyline and our reputation as a world-class sports city is indisputable,” said Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot. “I am thrilled to welcome our partners at NASCAR to Chicago for an event that will attract thousands of people to our city. Chicago’s world-class entertainment and hospitality industries, coupled with our city’s history as a conduit for sports talent, make us the perfect hosts for this unique event.”
NASCAR first teased the idea of a Chicago Street Course event on the iRacing platform in 2021. The buzz turned into a roar as racing fans rejoiced at the idea.
“Chicago is one of the world’s top sports and entertainment destinations. Year after year, fans from all over the world travel to our great city for high-profile sporting events,” said Kara Bachman, Executive Director, Chicago Sports Commission. “The 2023 NASCAR Chicago Street Race weekend will continue that legacy with another monumental sports moment and we look forward to welcoming fans to NASCAR’s first-ever street race.”
The course will be very similar to that run on the iRacing platform, according to a NASCAR press release. For its part, iRacing officials scanned the course used in the racing simulator and few changes, if any, are expected for the final course layout.
The cars will race down Lake Shore Drive to Michigan Avenue, Columbus Drive and select surrounding thoroughfares, which will make up the 12-turn, 2.2 miles street course. The cars will pit directly across from Buckingham Fountain and race towards the northern edge of Soldier Field, which hosted the NASCAR Cup Series in 1956.
“Welcoming yet another NASCAR event to Illinois just weeks after the inaugural Enjoy Illinois 300 Cup Series race is a testament to the strength of our tourism industry from Chicago to Metro East,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “Illinois, with its longstanding tradition of innovation, is a fitting host for NASCAR’s first-ever street race, and we are thrilled to welcome this new series to America’s most iconic drive next summer.”