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NASCAR is set to stage its first street race next year in Chicago

NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace poses outside Soldier Field. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)
3 min

In the latest move to broaden its variety of races, NASCAR is taking to the streets of Chicago.

Beginning in 2023 and continuing for at least two more years, the stock-car racing circuit will stage a top-flight Cup Series race in Grant Park, on the shore of Lake Michigan. The proposed course layout resembles a figure-eight, features sharp left and right turns, and includes portions of Lake Shore Drive, Columbus Drive and Congress Plaza.

NASCAR executive Ben Kennedy, the 30-year-old great-grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., hailed the unprecedented race as “the boldest change” to his organization’s schedule.

“We want to be bold and innovative as we think about new venues and new concepts that we’re going to. This is number one on the list for us right now,” Kennedy, NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing development and strategy, said at a promotional event Tuesday in Chicago that was also attended by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and driver Bubba Wallace.

“It’s certainly going to be most anticipated event of our season,” Kennedy continued, “and one of the biggest sporting events in our country in 2023.”

Kennedy noted there has never been a street-course race in NASCAR’s national series history.

“What better place to do it than downtown Chicago, such an iconic city?” he said.

The race will take place July 2, 2023, and will be preceded on the 2.2-mile course by an International Motor Sports Association competition. It will replace a road-course race that has been staged in Wisconsin on the same weekend for the past two years. The Cup Series held a race at Joliet’s Chicagoland Speedway, approximately 45 miles from Grant Park, from 2001 to 2019.

Earlier this year, NASCAR staged an exhibition event inside Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the first time. In 2021, the series held its first dirt-track race in more than 50 years.

The decision to stage a street-course race also comes as Formula One, which has long been associated with street circuits, grows in popularity in the United States.

Formula One, fueled by Netflix and ESPN, revs up courtship of U.S. fans

Of the Chicago event, Wallace emphasized how it would be “bringing NASCAR to this demographic.”

“We talk about how representation matters,” said Wallace, a North Carolina native who is the only Black full-time driver in the Cup Series, “and I think exposing this sport to this area, downtown, with so much to do around while this race is going on, is super important. So you’re going to get that next Bubba Wallace that’s sitting in the stands, like I was when I was 9 years old, to be like: ‘Hey, I want to do this one day. But I want to be better.’ ”

Lightfoot said Chicago officials would be “working hand and glove with NASCAR to make sure that the experience is safe but also incredibly enjoyable for the fans.”

“I’m looking forward to showcasing our fantastic city on a global stage,” she added. “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that this race is a love letter to the city of Chicago.”