NASCAR Raises Bar for Second Chicago Street Race: 'We Do Have Unfinished Business'

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NASCAR's Return to Chicago: 'Unfinished Business'Xinhua News Agency - Getty Images
  • Last year’s inaugural NASCAR street race in Chicago race famously (or infamously) was held during one of the worst weather weekends of the NASCAR season.

  • There were many doubters and naysayers last year, in large part because many streets in the city were shut down for an extended period.

  • Lessons learned, organizers say, from the 2023 experience are expected to reduce build time of the track and improve the overall fan experience.

There were many who said it would never happen, and many who said if it did it would be a colossal failure.

Yet, despite everyone and everything, last year’s inaugural Chicago Street Race indeed did occur. The wacky worst of the social media predictions did not happen. No iconic Chicago buildings were damaged by race cars. No drivers were shot at they raced down Michigan Avenue. The Willis Tower, once the world’s tallest building, still stands.


And, yes, they’re going to do it again. The second NASCAR Chicago Street Race weekend is scheduled July 6-7 on the same street course that includes iconic Chicago streets Columbus Drive, Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Avenue.

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NASCAR returns to the streets of Chicago on July 6-7.Xinhua News Agency - Getty Images

And this time organizers hope to do it without rowboats.

Last year’s Chicago race famously (or infamously) was held during one of the worst weather weekends of the NASCAR season. Near-biblical rain pounded the city, drenching drivers, cars and fans, creating rivers along the course and in the pit area and forcing officials to cancel three of the four major music concerts scheduled as a core piece of the weekend.

Despite the weather (and several flash flood warnings), the race eventually was run, and it became a particularly newsworthy event when first-time driver Shane van Gisbergen rolled into victory lane.

The success of the unique event has opened the door for NASCAR to look into scheduling races in other urban centers and also reportedly has aroused interest from other motorsports series in possibly racing in the Windy City.

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NASCAR Chicago event president Julie Giese is the former president at Phoenix Raceway.Chris Graythen - Getty Images

Now, act two. Julie Giese, the event president, is counting down the days—less than 100 now—and hopes umbrellas won’t be part of the fashions along Michigan Avenue this year. Although last year’s event drew high marks for NASCAR’s first street race, Giese’s biggest regret is that fans didn’t get the full impact of the weekend because of weather disruptions.

“For us, this was a racing and music festival, and it is a racing and music festival,” Giese said. “We didn’t get to have as much music as we wanted last year.”

Also dumped last year, because of the rain, was an event planned to introduce the Cup drivers on the huge festival ground. “There would have been thousands of people on the field at their first race, so let’s introduce the stars of our sport to them,” Giese said. “We want to see that festival experience and racing experience come together with the skyline in the background.”

Keith Urban, the Black Keys, the Chainsmokers and Lauren Alaina are scheduled to perform this year. The Chainsmokers were on last year’s program and agreed to return this year.

“We do have unfinished business,” Giese said. “There’s a lot that we wanted to do last year that we weren’t able to do. In spite of everything, it was a pretty special weekend.”

There were many doubters and naysayers last year, and there was pushback from some city businesses and residents, in large part because many streets in the city were shut down for an extended period to accommodate the building of the race course and the associated facilities. Giese said lessons learned from last year’s “build” will enable officials to trim six days—three days before the race period and three days after—from the build and teardown process.

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NASCAR officials and race fans will be hoping for better weather at Chicago this year after dealing with downpours at last year’s event.Jared C. Tilton - Getty Images

“I think last year it was that unknown and not knowing what it was, how it was going to look, what it meant,” Giese said. “The road disruptions are real. Obviously, we’re racing on the streets. For us, we’re trying to tighten that as much as possible. This year we’re able to take six days off the build schedule. The road impacts are much smaller.”

Officials have added reserved seats for this year’s event and have expanded the availability of single-day tickets for Sunday’s featured program. Some ticket prices are much higher, a $150 general admission ticket for Sunday includes the concerts and race-course viewing.