NASCAR racing toward first Chicago Street Race, ‘but it’s a fun fast’
The first-ever NASCAR Cup Series street race is less than 60 days away, and as the ticking clock grows louder, business is picking up for track president Julie Giese.
“It’s definitely busy, and time definitely feels like it’s going faster each day,” Giese told RACER. “But it’s a fun fast because there is so much opportunity, and we’re doing something that has never been done before. It’s a huge event, and there are a lot of things that we want to do.
“The to-do list, we continue to check things off, but we continue to add things as well because it’s all about making sure we’re delivering the best experience possible. But, yes, it’s going to come quick.”
NASCAR invades downtown Chicago July 1-2 with the Cup and Xfinity Series.
It’s been a quick turnaround for Giese. NASCAR announced the street race in July of last year. Giese, the former president of Phoenix Raceway, is one of the most respected executives in the sport and known for overseeing significant projects, was chosen to lead the event in August.
Giese hit the ground running — it wasn’t long before NASCAR had an office and team in Chicago, keen to show they are not just showing up, racing and leaving. Understanding there is only one chance at a good first impression, Giese and her team have a constant presence in the city and can continue to grow their relationship with locals.
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“It’s incredibly humbling,” Giese said of the job. “It’s interesting for me personally because I started with this company 24 years ago in an entry-level position at a road course, Watkins Glen. So, it’s kind of coming full circle. But for me, it is humbling. To say the sport has not done something in 75 years is hard to find things like that, so to be a part of it, to lead a team that’s bringing it together, it’s an honor.
“I’ve enjoyed it. I remind myself every day — we sell fun. That’s truly what we do. Bringing people together to have a good time, enjoy racing, educate them about NASCAR, and really show longtime NASCAR fans a different way to enjoy the race.”
Regarding the relationship between NASCAR and the city, Giese is well aware of the critics about the disruption the race will bring. Giese and her team continue to address every question and concern around the event, but she also acknowledged the tremendous amount of excitement around it.
“We have been working really hard to be a good member of the community, and that includes all the different initiatives we’ve been announcing,” Giese said. “But this is also an opportunity to give the city a nice boost in the arm from a tourism perspective. Specifically, in my conversations with the businesses and business community, they see that opportunity, and they’re excited about it and want to support it, want to help. From a resident perspective, it’s very similar.
“There’s a lot of pride in that city. I knew that having visited as a Midwesterner, but now that I live there, there is a tremendous amount of pride for the city of Chicago by Chicagoans. So, they do see the opportunity. This is a great chance to showcase the see. And for me, I enjoy the conversations because hearing the questions they have is only going to make us better. I think the more conversations we have and the more we have to answer questions and hear from them, the more they are like, ‘OK, this is interesting. I’m excited about it.’ That’s been our process — have any and all conversations, answer questions, find solutions where they are needed, and continue to be a good partner.”
NASCAR has done numerous events in Chicago over the last few months. Strikingly so compared to the buildup of other NASCAR events. Some things include STEM events in the city, continued announcements about race weekend, taking a simulator to a Chicago Red Stars game, and having local teens create an official mural for race weekend through a partnership with After School Matters.
And it’ll be more of the same when NASCAR arrives in town for race weekend. While the weekend’s culmination will be the Cup Series race Sunday, July 2, by then, it will not have been a typical race weekend with all of the other activities included in the event.
“The way we’re approaching it is a two-day racing and musical festival, and ‘festival’ is really the word we’re leaning in on because it is a little bit of everything,” Giese said. “You have the races, which will be the hallmark both days, but then adding on those four concerts. We’re working on some additional entertainment options. We’ll have a lot of partner activations throughout the footprint. We have Butler Field, which is on the north end of the entry, it’s a free area, so that’s where the community can come out and be a part of the event whether you have an admission ticket or not.
“(That is) a huge opportunity for us to educate people about NASCAR in that footprint. Photo moments. Even looking at how we do pre-race and post-race and thinking about that differently. The fun part about this whole thing is it’s a blank sheet of paper, and we’re able to keep adding pieces and pull from different elements. Chicago, in the summertime, there is a festival every weekend in different neighborhoods, so we’re leaning into that and making sure we’re being very intentional and celebrating Chicago.”
Giese learned about creating opportunities to experience the race differently through her time at Daytona, where she oversaw the Daytona Rising project and Phoenix. The latter also went through a massive renovation project and became the site of the season finale.
As race weekend draws closer, Giese is bullish about how it will go. There will already be a lot of pride to go around for the industry doing something for the first time, but in her eyes, a successful weekend is introducing the sport to new fans and putting NASCAR’s best foot forward. It’s why Giese and her team spend so much time working and communicating with local city departments to make things as smooth as possible.
“That’s a big one for us over the next 50-something days,” Giese said. “Every day, we are working hard to make sure everyone knows what to expect.”
It’ll be a staggered process of the course coming together, but in June, it’ll start to take life. The first structure, the two-story President’s Paddock Club, will begin construction in early June. The course, primarily barriers going in place along the curb lines, will start being put in place in mid-June. There will not be street closures until the week of the race. And as soon as the race is over, everything begins getting cleared out immediately.
As for how ticket sales are going for the event, Giese said there has been a tremendous positive response.
“Reserve seats are going well incredibly well,” she said. “We still have some general admission tickets available. Most of our clubs are going very well. The Paddock Club, especially. So, we’re seeing a really positive trend on ticket sales.
“One thing that we’re specifically looking at is who’s coming. We have ticket holders from 48 states and 12 different countries across three different continents right now. Those are numbers that I’m paying close attention to because, again, we have a commitment to the city of Chicago to drive tourism. So, seeing people coming from all over to be a part of this event is fun to see. I think we’re going to see those numbers grow over the next 50-some days as we get closer to race weekend.”