Chicago to host NASCAR's first-ever street race in 2023 in Grant Park
CHICAGO (CBS)-- While the city is preparing to crack down on amateur street racing, it's also welcoming professional drivers with open arms.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and NASCAR officials on Tuesday announced a first-of-its-kind street course race downtown through Grant Park, just ahead of the July 4th holiday next year.
The start/finish line and pit road for the race will be along Columbus Drive at Buckingham Fountain, with the race course including portions of Columbus Drive, Balbo Drive, DuSable Lake Shore Drive, Roosevelt Road, Michigan Avenue, Congress Plaza Drive, and Jackson Drive, taking drivers through Grant Park, and within blocks of Soldier Field, which hosted the only other NASCAR race in Chicago in 1956.
The real-life planned route for the race is not unlike a virtual race last summer, when NASCAR and iRacing held a televised race through a digitally-scanned virtual version of the city – over DuSable Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Avenue near Grant Park.
"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 racecourses, maybe ever – and introduce a whole new fan base to what NASCAR is about in the city of Chicago? We couldn't pass up the opportunity," Lightfoot said.
Mayor Lightfoot announced the plan alongside NASCAR leaders, along with driver Bubba Wallace – who took a spin around the downtown area himself Tuesday.
"This is big," Wallace said. "I think you look at how representation matters a lot to these young kids and youth coming up in sports, and bringing a race here to the downtown streets of Chicago is really cool – and they'll get to experience that firsthand."
The first-ever NASCAR Cup Series street course race will be held on July 2, 2023. It will be preceded by an International Motor Sports Association race on July 1, 2023.
The announcement already has been met with skepticism from downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), who hours before the formal announcement from Lightfoot said neither he nor other aldermen in whose wards the race is expected to take place were consulted about the NASCAR plan.
"I think it's going to require an open dialogue with the impacted wards. It's not just the 42nd Ward, but also the 3rd and 4th Wards. None of us as aldermen have been briefed on this in any kind of detail, and so while it could be an exciting opportunity for the city of Chicago, it needs to be properly vetted in the light of day," Reilly said at an unrelated event Tuesday morning. "We want to make sure it's a good deal for the city, and it doesn't overly burden the Central Business District, and inconvenience commuters, businesses, and local residents."
Reilly also noted the timing of the NASCAR announcement is ironic, coming as the City Council prepares to vote Wednesday on an ordinance to crack down on illegal street racing, by empowering police to impound cars involved in such activities - whether the owner is there or not.
"It's also a bit ironic that we had a series of these drag racing incidents play out over the weekend," Reilly said.
Lightfoot claimed the city consulted all of the aldermen whose wards will be impacted by the race, but Reilly insisted that's not the case, saying he and other alderpersons whose wards would be impacted by the race were never consulted by the Lightfoot administration, and only ever heard briefly from NASCAR executives less than a day before the formal announcement, but had no detailed discussions on the plan.
The mayor's political opponents also are criticizing the move. Referencing a recent street racing incident, mayoral candidate Paul Vallas tweeted "no need for Chicago's mayor to bring NASCAR to downtown Chicago. It's already here."
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