CHICAGO ( Associated Press) – NASCAR will celebrate its 75th season with an unprecedented street race through downtown Chicago, another radical change to the once-scheduled run.
The Cup Series will next race on July 2 against the backdrop of Lake Michigan and Grant Park, in the first race of a three-year deal with the City of Chicago. The venture was led by Ben Kennedy, the 30-year-old great-grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France.
It was Kennedy who successfully held the January Exhibition Race inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum that would return for a second race in 2023. Kennedy told the Associated Press that he began work on both the Coliseum and the Chicago Street Race in 2019.
The new venues come as NASCAR has made extensive changes to its oval-heavy program, first adding a dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway and additional road courses, and now an entirely new concept.
The Chicago Race will be combined with the IMSA Sports Car Race the day before, along with a 12-turn, 2.2-mile street course featuring music and entertainment options.
“Historically we’ve always been short track, intermediate, superspeedway, eventually started getting more road courses and then came up with the Coliseum concept,” Kennedy told the Associated Press.
“But the street course is something we haven’t fully explored before, and for us to get a downtown setting like theirs and bring racing to our fans, a street course is the perfect opportunity for that.”
NASCAR confirmed last month that the Coliseum would return next January, but the rest of the 2023 schedule has yet to be announced. However, Kennedy confirmed to the Associated Press that the Chicago Street Course Cup would replace the Road Course Race in America on the schedule.
Road America in Wisconsin hosted the Cup Series for the past two seasons in the same weekend. Moving to downtown Chicago, NASCAR holds a race in the Midwest region, returning to a coveted market. NASCAR ran 19 Cup races at Chicagoland Speedway in Juliet, 45 miles from downtown.
NASCAR had tried to generate interest in the market and even included Chicagoland in the opening run of the playoffs in 2011. But the track was too far out of town to attract new spectators, and NASCAR dropped out after the 2019 season.
The downtown course will cover well-known areas of Chicago, including Lake Shore Drive, Michigan Avenue and South Columbia Drive, where the start/finish line and Pitt Road will be located directly in front of the Buckingham Fountain. The course will pass through Grant Park and reach the northern edge of Soldier Field – the site of the only other Cup Series race to be held in downtown Chicago in 1956.
Kennedy said NASCAR would be the promoter, which generally means the party responsible for all costs of producing the race. He declined to discuss any agreements made with the City of Chicago or the Chicago Sports Commission.
“Chicago’s streets are as iconic as our skyline and our reputation as a world-class sports city is undeniable,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement. “I am thrilled to welcome our partners in NASCAR to Chicago, which will attract thousands of people to our city. Chicago’s world-class entertainment and hospitality industry, combined with our city’s history for sports talent, has given us this unique Makes the ideal host for the event.”