DOWNTOWN — It’s official: NASCAR will host races on Chicago’s Downtown streets starting in July 2023.
The partnership between NASCAR and the city will see races held over the next three years on a course starting in Grant Park. The first races will be July 1-2, 2023.
The 2.2-mile, 12-turn course will include Lake Shore Drive, Michigan Avenue, Columbus Drive and surrounding streets with the start/finish line and pit road along South Columbus Drive in front of Buckingham Fountain. The course will pass through Grant Park near the lakefront and approach the northern edge of Soldier Field, according to city officials.
The first NASCAR Cup Series street course race will happen July 2, 2023, and will be preceded by an International Motor Sports Association-sanctioned series race on July 1, 2023. The races will include music and live entertainment, officials said in a release.
The plan was first revealed July 7 by The Athletic’s Jordan Bianchi.
Talks to bring the event to Chicago started last year after NASCAR hosted an Esports 2.2-mile virtual race through the city, Mayor Lori Lightfoot told reporters Tuesday. The mayor said the excitement around NASCAR races in Chicago is “off the charts,” and she is confident it will be successful.
“This is a huge, huge sports town … the opportunity to bring something so unique as NASCAR to the city of Chicago, I think it’s going to be one of the most iconic race courses maybe every,” Lightfoot said. “We couldn’t pass up that opportunity.”
There will be music and entertainment activities for people of all ages around the races, according to the city. Tickets will go on sale later this year.
“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.
NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace, who will be participating in the street course next year, called the opportunity to race in Chicago “exciting” saying he’s looking forward to the challenge of the city’s tight 90-degree corners and road bumps.
“[These are] the same streets you guys drive on every day … we’ll just be unrestricted on the speed limit and gets to go as fast as we can,” Wallace said.
But not everyone is on board. Lightfoot is facing backlash from Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), who said the mayor has had zero conversations with the aldermen whose wards will be affected.
“I hear the Mayor has ‘approved’ a giant Hot Wheels Track in downtown Chicago: impacting residents & businesses in four different wards. Number of conversations the Administration has had with aldermen?” Reilly tweeted with a gif of former President Bill Clinton mouthing: “Zero.”
Lightfoot said that wasn’t true, claiming she “obviously consulted with the aldermen whose wards were going to be affected” and there would be more community engagement leading up to the event.
The announcement comes just a day before City Council votes on a proposal to crack down on drag racing and drifting across the city. Two drag racing incidents in the West Loop and South Loop were reported over the weekend.
RELATED: After Another Chaotic Drag Racing Weekend, Aldermen Push To Impound Cars
If passed Wednesday, the ordinance would give Chicago police the power to impound cars that drivers raced or drifted by using videos as evidence, and would increase fines for car owners.
Car owners will face a $2,000 fine or impoundment, according to the proposed ordinance. That penalty would be added to the city’s existing drag racing fines, which are $5,000-$10,000, plus a $500 fee for towing.
Asked if it was “hypocritical to be promoting street racing” just as the City Council is poised to vote on the ordinance, the mayor said no, calling it an “apples and oranges” comparison.
“What we’re seeing is an uncontrolled, spontaneous events that create a lot of havoc and safety issues across our city. This is NASCAR. It’s a completely different environment,” Lightfoot said.
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