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NASCAR's first street race in Grant Park faces delicate balancing act

NASCAR's first street race in Grant Park faces delicate balancing act
NASCAR's first street race in Grant Park faces delicate balancing act 03:27

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The first-ever NASCAR street race is coming to downtown Chicago the first weekend of July. The race is uncharted territory for both Chicago and NASCAR.

CBS 2's Matt Zahn sat down with the longtime track executive NASCAR tabbed to run all aspects of this brand-new event and the logistical challenges they face.

"There is that unknown. We haven't done this before. How is this going to work? So that's up to us, really, to make sure we are as prepared as possible," said Chicago Street Race president Julie Giese.

That's part of the reason NASCAR tabbed Giese, the former president of Phoenix Raceway, to oversee everything involved with the first-ever Chicago street course. And she and her team are doing that from an office in downtown Chicago.

"We're going to be here 365 days a year. That was really important to us. Being a member of the community is incredibly important, and giving back to the communities in which we race. So we have about a half-dozen employees right now, we'll grow to just over a dozen," she said.

How will they make their plan work to make city streets in and around Grant Park into a NASCAR race course?

"The beauty of a street race is we're going to race on the street. So minimal work that would need to be done there, and we'll bring in concrete barriers to go around the course that will have fencing. There's fencing that goes around that. Then I think probably the biggest piece is the structure builds. It will be very similar to going to a golf tournament, and you see the chalets at the tee boxes and the greens.  That's the type of experience we're going to be creating," she said.

Will people be able to move around the race course like at a golf course?

"Absolutely, and I think that's one of the beauties of a road course race, too, is that you do have the opportunity to move around the footprint, and see the racing from different vantage points," she said.

Organizers have a pretty good idea of what the track will look like. Drivers got a bit of a test run, running a virtual race through downtown Chicago in 2021.

"That was a really helpful proof of concept for us just to see that it's possible, and it was like one of those, kind of the launching point for the conversations to make it a reality," Giese said.

As far as the route they chose, Giese said it's something that had been in the works for years.

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 iconic location with Grant Park, the beauty of it; then you have the skyline, the lake, Buckingham fountain – all of that converged to be a pretty special place to run a race," she said.

Of course, showcasing those iconic landmarks will come with some disruption, with the NASCAR event taking over most of Grant Park for two weeks. Giese said they are trying to minimize the disruption as much as possible.

"It's just making sure that we have that window as tight as possible, and that we able to leave the streets open as long as possible, and then reopen them, and that's something we're working on right now," she said.

So how do they plan to balance the disruption versus how great they want the event to be?

"At the end of the day, we're going to be running a race for the very first time in downtown Chicago. It's a tremendous opportunity for us to showcase what Chicago is and what makes Chicago such an amazing city," she said.

The race will have cars moving at speeds of 100 mph on the straightaways, but lots of tight turns.

Giese said they're making sure everyone downtown has a good understanding of exactly what will be happening for the whole event. She also said they are anticipating at least $113 million in economic impact for Chicago.

The race weekend includes a music festival featuring The Chainsmokers, Miranda Lambert, The Black Crowes, and Charley Crockett.

Two-day general admission tickets, starting at $269, will go on sale on Thursday at 10 a.m. Fans can subscribe at to get early access to general admission tickets as part of a pre-sale on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1.

Two-day reserved tickets are already on sale, starting at $465. Reserved tickets offer premium experiences such as elevated seating in the President's Paddock Club, above the race course tree line along pit road, offering fans a view of nearly the entire course, as well as the pit boxes. Other premium benefits include food and drinks, introductions to drivers before the race, and premium club spaces.

So, we're going to have cars moving at speeds of 100 miles per hour on the straightaways, but with lots of tight turns, it'll slow down a bit. Race tickets go sale Thursday. And, it's a music festival, as well, with The Chainsmokers, The Black Crowes and Miranda Lambert all scheduled to perform. Julie Giese says they're making sure everyone downtown as a good understanding of exactly what will be happening. She also says they anticipate at least $113 million economic impact for Chicago. 

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