Chicago’s most iconic roads, including DuSable Lake Shore Drive, Michigan Avenue and Columbus Drive, will be transformed into a 12-turn, 2.2-mile showcase for the first street race in NASCAR’s 75-year history.
More than 40 years ago, then-Mayor Jane Byrne proudly announced a Chicago Grand Prix race that would take place on the streets of Chicago on the weekend of July 4, 1981.
The political reaction was almost as fast and furious as the race would have been – so much so that the event was canceled long before the green flag dropped.
On Tuesday, Chicago’s second female mayor followed a trail laid by the first.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot has announced three years of NASCAR racing on the streets of downtown Chicago, with the first set set for July 2, 2023 – if she wins a second term.
During the official announcement at Cityfront Plaza, Ben Kennedy, NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing strategy and development, called it “the most monumental day in the history of our sport, NASCAR. In 75 years, our sport has never had a street course.
In a panel discussion with NASCAR officials, Lightfoot said the “enthusiasm was just out of this world” when she entered negotiations with NASCAR more than a year ago.
“It’s a great sporting city. … It will perhaps be one of the most iconic racecourses. We couldn’t pass up this opportunity,” the mayor said.
Several production cars were displayed in the plaza for the announcement, which drew a crowd.
Noting that NASCAR’s fan base is “broad, wide and deep,” Lightfoot called the Chicago race an “opportunity to ignite tourism” and a “can’t-miss opportunity” to showcase Chicago.
“You look at this crowd and you know why we have to bring NASCAR to Chicago,” she said.
A proposed map shows a 2.2-mile route along Roosevelt Road, Columbus Drive, South DuSable Lake Shore Drive, Michigan Avenue and Jackson Boulevard in what is roughly a figure-8 style course.
The mayor’s enthusiasm for the landmark event was not shared by the downtown aldermen whose voters might be most inconvenienced.
Ald town center. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said he had no idea what he thought of NASCAR’s proposal because local aldermen were kept in the dark. As he said, “Not a peep from the 5th floor” of City Hall, where the mayor’s office is located.
“The administration has reportedly been negotiating this event with NASCAR for many months now, but they have intentionally excluded city council members who represent the affected area from these conversations,” Reilly wrote in an email to the Sun-Times.
“It’s not transparency, it’s the opposite. Apparently, the administration’s new approach, when it comes to major proposals that impact the city, is to hold secret meetings and completely ignore their equal partners in the legislative branch of city government.
Reilly said he didn’t blame NASCAR for excluding the aldermen. They were “specifically told” not to share details with anyone, he said.
Reilly and fellow board members Pat Dowell (3rd) and Sophia King (4th) “are not happy to be caught off guard by the administration and excluded from these discussions, but are eager to learn more about the proposal of NASCAR to determine whether or not this is a good deal for the taxpayers of Chicago,” Reilly wrote.
“We expect this proposal to be presented publicly and fully endorsed by the thousands of commercial and residential interests in and around the central business district. I understand that NASCAR is committed to engaging in robust community dialogue to present its plans and address traffic, noise and safety concerns.
Dowell, whose South Loop and Bronzeville voters would be embarrassed by the race, said she, too, was kept in the dark.
“This is another example of the lack of collaboration with the aldermen,” she said.
“I was invited to attend the announcement, but I refused to go because I didn’t know anything. I had no details.
Dowell said that when she declined the mayor’s invitation, NASCAR executive vice president Lesa France Kennedy and Kara Bachman, executive director of the Chicago Sports Commission, “rushed” to give her information about the agreement before the mayor’s press conference, including some details. on the course.
Most of the impact will take place on Friday and Saturday, he was told.
“They had no details on the impact on traffic for my constituents who live south of Roosevelt Road or for people who want to access Grant Park. … How many days will it take to edit and break down the track? How long are people going to be inconvenienced? It was not made clear to me,” Dowell said Tuesday.
“How much is it going to cost us to bring NASCAR here? How much money are we going to receive by having this event here? The purchase of goods and services by NASCAR while they are here in Chicago, what is the economic benefit and the minority business benefit? Neither of these questions were raised. Yes, we will be showcasing Chicago. Yes, we will be showcasing our beautiful lakefront. But, there has to be something something more for us… I’m not convinced yet.
Aldus. Sophia King (4th), whose neighborhood would also be affected, joined the chorus of complaints about local elected officials excluded from negotiations with NASCAR.
“Apparently they’ve been in talks with the administration for almost a year and have been told not to talk to us,” King, who is mulling a mayoral race against Lightfoot, wrote in a text message.
“It’s not transparent and undermines the process and the community. This unnecessarily puts the community at odds with the event before it even starts.
The proposal to hold three years of NASCAR racing on the streets of downtown Chicago is a high-risk, high-reward proposition for Lightfoot.
It could boost tourism and hotel occupancy and showcase Chicago’s world-class lakefront.
It could also embarrass and infuriate local residents and exacerbate Chicago’s ongoing fight against illegal drag racing, stunts and drifting.
That’s what worries downtown Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd). He fears a city-sanctioned race could “push” participants out of a subculture that thrives on becoming celebrities by posting daredevil stunts on social media.
On Wednesday, the city council is set to authorize the Chicago Police Department to confiscate vehicles used in these stunts, whether or not the owner of the vehicle is present.
“We don’t seem to have the ability to stop him at the moment. To fuel that by allowing a sanctioned road racing event when the unsanctioned are really causing trouble – I just don’t think now is the right time for that,” Hopkins told the Sun-Times earlier this month. this when NASCAR racing news first surfaced.
“I know the people behind are professionals. They’re not like renegade criminals destroying Wacker Drive. But it feeds this whole culture and adds a level of hypocrisy to our suppression efforts. We would say, “That’s what we like. Let these guys do it because they’re professionals, but the non-professional guys – we’re going to try to send them to jail for doing essentially the same thing.