DOWNTOWN — NASCAR’s first Chicago street race weekend wrapped up Sunday night after several weather delays, cancellations and minor crashes on the course.
Shane van Gisbergen from New Zealand topped the field to win in his NASCAR Cup Series debut. Justin Haley came in second followed by Chase Elliott.
Sunday’s race in and around Grant Park was the first of its kind for the racing behemoth and for Chicago. The race got underway late around 5:30 p.m after heavy rain that lasted most of the day, flooding the track and the event grounds.
The 100-lap race was cut to 75 laps in order to finish the race before sunset.
“I miss racing in the States … the way the American people are and how they go about racing, it’s so much more enjoyable,” van Gisbergen said. “Credit for NASCAR on their first weekend and hopefully it leads to more street courses, I’d love to do that.”
Gates opened at 10:15 a.m. where few attendees staggered in, many of them in ponchos ready to brave the elements.
But the persistent rain meant the Xfinity 121 race, which started Saturday and was called off about halfway through because of thunder and lightning, never got a chance to resume action Sunday.
“With standing water and flooding a significant issue at the racetrack and throughout the city, there was no option to return to racing prior to shifting to NASCAR Cup Series race operations,” the NASCAR statement read.
Cole Custer was declared the winner of that race.
The Chainsmokers concert Saturday was canceled. Due to extreme flooding at Lower Hutchinson Fields, Sunday’s concerts featuring Miranda Lambert and Charley Crockett also were canceled.
A flash flood warning was also in effect most of the day. Most of the grounds were underwater or extremely muddy while fans lined various portions of the track with lawn chairs.
Stadium seating remained mostly empty until the Cup Series race started later in the evening.
The race offered lots of thrills for fans who stuck it out and lined the course, both in the stands and in the streets. The tight turns and wet conditions led to several crashes, particularly at a troublesome Turn 6, and a multi-car pile up toward the end of the course near Jackson Drive and Michigan Avenue.
Commentators on NBC, which aired the race, noted there were still puddles on the race track drivers had to avoid.
“Changes in surface were extreme, like to go from old to new and then the concrete, [I’ve] never driven on concrete like that, really…when it rained the concrete was crazy,” van Gisbergen said.
Fans told Block Club Chicago they still enjoyed themselves even though the weather didn’t cooperate most of the weekend. But had Sunday’s race been postponed or canceled, fans said they would have wanted their money back.
“That’s something I did try to look into, but I didn’t find much information about it. But if they would give us a refund if they canceled it, that would definitely be something that we would appreciate,” said Chicagoan Angelica Alvarado.
Alvarado and her partner Jordan Hallmark paid $400 each for their tickets in the reserved section along Michigan Avenue.
“Besides for the the weather… I’m still enjoying it. It’s fun to see Chicago still out here trying to show up,” Hallmark said.
Everything Was Expensive, Fans Say
Tickets ranged $269 for general admission to over $3,000 for the President’s Padlock Club near the start line, considered the most ” luxurious race weekend experience,” officials said.
Tickets were about “six times more expensive than the cost of a triple-header event in August at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” Bloomberg reported — and fans noticed.
Joseth Komperda said he was comparing prices for reserved seating across multiple ticket platforms after seeing that buying directly from NASCAR would cost him over $400.
“Seat Geek was the best, but the fees just killed me,” Komperda said.
Lisa Anthony from La Crosse, Wisconsin, said the Chicago Street Race was her second in-person NASCAR race. Anthony is a long time NASCAR fan and was excited to see a race in Chicago, she said.
Anthony said she enjoyed the race weekend, but noticed how much more expensive food and drinks were versus the race she attended in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Six-packs of Busch Light and Michelob Ultra were going for $63.
A six-pack of Goose Island 312 sold $69, as did six-pack of Bud Light seltzers (black cherry or mango). A six-pack of Jack Daniel’s and Coca Cola’s cost fans $72, the same price as a sixer of wine spritzers and canned cocktails, according to posted menus.
A slice of deep dish pizza was $8 with a pulled Berkshire Pork sandwich selling for $12.
“I heard some people were surprised at the prices … NASCAR fans are hard, working class-people; the prices caught us by surprise,” Anthony said Saturday.
Will NASCAR Be Back Next Year?
It’s unclear if the street race will return in 2024.
Under the contract with the city of Chicago, NASCAR can come back for a second and third year, with an option to renew for two additional years. The contract allows for a 180-day termination clause either side can activate.
NASCAR will pay the Chicago Park District a $500,000 permit fee this year, and $550,000 in 2024 and $605,000 in 2025 if those races are staged, according to the contract. Additionally the park district will receive 15 percent of net commissions on concession and merchandise, plus $2 per admission ticket, according to the contract.
NASCAR officials would not say how many tickets they sold.
Officials previously told Block Club Chicago they were expecting 50,000 visitors a day. There were 20,000 reserved seats and 30,000 general admission tickets for the two-day event, the Tribune reported.
“Nine sections of reserved seats were sold out as of Friday,” a NASCAR spokesperson told the Tribune.
More than 80 percent of ticket holders were attending a NASCAR race for the first time, a spokesperson said.
“One of our main goals in bringing this race to Chicago was to introduce NASCAR to a new and expanding fanbase,” the spokesperson said.
The race is estimated to generate $113 million in economic benefits and $3.2 million in tax revenue to Chicago, NASCAR officials have said.
Part of the tax revenue comes from the city’s 9 percent amusement tax, which applies to “purveyors and consumers of entertainment, including live concerts and theatrical performances.”
This tax ranges from $22-$272 per ticket, depending on the tier. This additional cost passed to the consumer covered not only the race itself, but also the concerts that never happened, according to the Illinois Policy Institute.
If the race returns in 2024, fans said NASCAR could improve the experience by lowering prices and offering more general admission seating.
Komperda also said it would be beneficial if NASCAR included more explanations on the screens of what’s happening during the race for first-time fans.
“NASCAR mentioned that they wanted to come to this to the city to kind of expand their outreach. But if 80 percent of people … if this is their first race, I kind of doubt that people would look up the 101 beforehand,” Komperda said.
Alvarado said she would have appreciated more signs and communication from NASCAR on how to navigate the event grounds. She spent over an hour finding her seat in the reserved section.
“Nobody knew where our location was. So we ended up having to find it by ourselves. We spent most of the time walking in the rain,” Alvarado said.
Before the event started, a contractor died Friday after he was injured on the course, authorities said.
Duane Tabinski, 53, was injured just before 11:30 a.m. Friday in the 500 block of South Columbus Drive, which is near Buckingham Fountain, police said. He was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Tabinski was working on set-up for the weekend’s events, according to a statement from his event production company, DUANE. He died from electrocution, the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office ruled Saturday.
Then Saturday, a man drove onto the race course after that day’s action was called off, police said.
The 46-year-old driver entered the course after he “struck” a barrier on the 1200 block of South DuSable Lake Shore Drive around 9 p.m. Saturday, police said.
The driver was issued three citations at the scene for negligent driving, lack of a valid registration and operating an uninsured motor vehicle, a police spokesperson said Sunday. He was not arrested and no injuries were reported, police said.
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