NASCAR embraces street racing with new Chicago event

NASCAR has announced a deal for a new street race in Chicago, taking in Soldier Field stadium, as the US motor-racing series furthers efforts to diversify its calendar beyond its traditional venues.

The 2023 NASCAR Cup Series will see Chicago enter the calendar on July 1-2, with the 2.2-mile street course set to take in Lake Shore Drive, Michigan Avenue and South Columbus Drive, where the start/finish line and pit road will be situated directly in front of Buckingham Fountain.

The circuit will pass through Grant Park and approach the northern edge of Soldier Field, home of NFL franchise the Chicago Bears and site of the only other Cup Series race to take place in downtown Chicago, back in 1956.

NASCAR has agreed a three-year deal with the City of Chicago, with street racing representing a whole new concept for the series. This has been realised after a circuit was first developed on the iRacing platform and used in the eNASCAR Pro Invitational Series last year.

Ben Kennedy, NASCAR senior vice-president of racing development and strategy, said, according to NASCAR.com: “Certainly (there has been) a lot of work by the team in coming up with not only the vision for the iRacing event to be able to prove out what the track would look like, but then ultimately, what the site plan looks like, what the events and activities will look like on the event weekend, which will look significantly different from what we’ve seen at a lot of some of our other events.

“We’ll have a number of different music acts… different entertainment options throughout the weekend. IMSA will be joining us with one of their series as well, leading into the Cup Series on Sunday.”

Chicago’s Mayor, Lori Lightfoot, added: “We’ll be working hand and glove with NASCAR to make sure that the experience is safe but also incredibly enjoyable for the fans.

“If you know anything about the city of Chicago, you probably know our tremendous lakefront and icons like Grant Park and Buckingham Fountain. I’m looking forward to showcasing our fantastic city on a global stage. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that this race is a love letter to the city of Chicago.”

NASCAR last month confirmed it will return to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum next year for another exhibition race, following the success of the inaugural event in February. The event, officially titled the Busch Light Clash, will return to the quarter-mile race track on February 5 and will mark the start of the 2023 NASCAR season.

This year’s race represented the first time the iconic Coliseum had staged a NASCAR race since it opened in 1923. The event formed part of the venue’s centennial celebrations and attracted a crowd of around 50,000.

Concerning NASCAR broadening its horizons on the back of the Coliseum event, Kennedy said: “We’ve talked about this before, but it gives us the ability to go into new markets. I think street courses gives us that ability as well.

“That said, it’s important for us to keep the integrity that we’ve had in the schedule. Mile and a half, superspeedway, short tracks are all important to our schedule. Adding a street course to the schedule I think is going to continue to make it probably the most diverse motorsports schedule that exists out there today, and we’re really excited about that.

“But I think it gives us the ability, as we think on into the future to enter some of the new markets and look at some of our events in different ways.”