Selling NASCAR's Chicago Street Race Drives Event President Julie Giese

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NASCAR's Chicago Race Drives President Julie GieseMike Hembree
  • The NASCAR Chicago Street Race is scheduled for July 6-7 on the same course as 2023.

  • When the inaugural Chicago race was announced two years ago, many, including some in NASCAR garages, labeled the concept ludicrous.

  • Year 2 is about putting all of the pieces together again, turning one of America’s largest cities into a speedway.

It’s a big day in the NASCAR Chicago Street Race offices 28 floors above the city. A heavy package has been delivered, and members of the staff gather as president Julie Giese opens it with a certain level of anticipation.

As expected, it’s the Sports Business Journal’s impressive trophy for the 2023 Sports Event of the Year, awarded to the Chicago Street Race over several other contenders, including, by the way, the Super Bowl.


Giese passes the trophy around the room so that others who helped to turn a wet weekend and a controversial event into one of the big moments in the NASCAR year can appreciate the honor personally.

Then it’s back to working on the second edition of the street race, scheduled July 6-7 on the same course as 2023. The countdown board in Giese’s office shows 37 days to go.

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Julie Giese makes sure everyone in her office knows the countdown to NASCAR’s big date with Chicago.Mike Hembree

When the inaugural Chicago race was announced two years ago, many, including some in NASCAR garages, labeled the concept ludicrous and impossible. But it happened and was largely judged a success despite the fact that Biblical rain fell on the city that weekend, cramping the racing schedule and forcing organizers to abandon adjacent events that included major music concerts.

Now, in executive-speak, there is “proof of concept.”

Year 2 is about putting all of the pieces together again, turning one of America’s largest cities into a speedway and keeping alive the large web of community contact points Giese and others on her staff generated last year. This explains why Giese has some sort of meeting—Zoom or otherwise—scheduled for most hours of most days, and it also explains why her work shoes are sneakers, not heels.

There is always another detail to check, another problem that pops up out, another city resident or business person with a question.

Giese and her key staff members are making the rounds of the community, from residential building organizations to business groups to government officials, once more detailing the intricacies of putting on a major motorsports event in a city of neighborhoods and tall buildings.

“This year we’re still having all the same conversations, but the topics are different,” Giese said. “Last year was very much about education. What does it look like? How do you do it? What to expect. How do I move around the city during the race period? Last year we had over 150 meetings with businesses and organizations about their concerns and the opportunities. Now it’s about what worked and how it gets better. The conversations are easier now.”

The idea of hulking race cars roaring past the flower planters in front of your apartment building, prompting the closing of your street for days, didn’t necessarily sit well with city residents who knew little about this thing called NASCAR.

“I got questions about the possibility of cars hitting buildings because people didn’t know about the barriers and fencing systems,” Giese said. “We made sure everybody knew what to expect. We said from day one that we wanted to be partners with the city of Chicago and do this the right way. We wanted this city to be proud of the event. Some of the conversations definitely were challenging, but those I learned the most from.

"Residents of buildings along Michigan Avenue reached out very early on, and we spent a lot of time talking to their boards and the residents. The conversations started off challenging, and I completely understand why. Now they understand. They have the information, and they know they can text me anytime. They’ve become advocates.”

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NASCAR’s first trip to downtown Chicago in 2024 was marred by rain—whether that some say didn’t give the event a fair chance to put it’s best face forward. Icon Sportswire - Getty Images

NASCAR officials began discussing the idea of scheduling Cup and Xfinity races on Chicago streets early in 2022. A veteran of major construction projects at Daytona International Speedway and Phoenix Raceway, Giese was involved in the discussions as officials grappled with the numerous questions raised by the concept of turning streets like busy Michigan Avenue and Lake Shore Drive into speedway lanes.

Giese eventually was named president of the Chicago project, leaving the same position at Phoenix Raceway to take on the matrix of problems waiting in the Second City. Having grown up on a family dairy farm in Wisconsin, she was used to long days and sudden problem-solving.

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Giese is proud of the event’s accolades from Year 1.Mike Hembree

“I very much enjoy blank sheets of paper,” she said. “I like the site plans and getting in and understanding people movements.”

As part of a Zoom conference later in the day, she is “deep in the weeds,” as she describes it, working with others on plans for changes in pedestrian bridges and the placement of seats in prime spectator locations.

Giese enjoys telling the story of Chicago resident and Grand Park Chorus director Christopher Bell, who happens to share a name with a leading NASCAR driver. She said Bell the music director, unsure of what to expect during the race weekend last year, left the city to be free of whatever it was that was going to happen.

“He went to Fort Wayne, Indiana,” she said. “During the race, Christopher Bell (the driver) took the lead, and the other Christopher Bell’s phone was buzzing with people telling him that the race was happening and he was leading. That sparked his interest, and he wanted to know all he could about the other Christopher Bell. Now he wants a firesuit with ‘Christopher Bell’ on it to wear while he’s conducting.”

There seems to be a good chance the two Christopher Bells will meet during the second race weekend.

Sometimes the Chicago Street Race is sold one person at a time.