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Chicago to host first-ever NASCAR street race next July

The weekend-long event will see several downtown Chicago streets temporarily converted into a 2.2-mile racecourse.

CHICAGO (CN) — Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Tuesday afternoon that the city would host the first-ever NASCAR Cup Series street race next year. Slated for the weekend of July 1-2, 2023, the event will also feature an IMSA race of a yet-unspecified series.

“The first-ever NASCAR Cup Series street course race will take place on Sunday, July 2, 2023, and will be preceded by an IMSA sanctioned series race, which will run on Saturday, July 1, 2023,” reads a press release Lightfoot’s office published Tuesday. “The specific IMSA series joining the NASCAR Cup Series in Chicago will be announced at a later date.”

The races mark NASCAR’s 75th season. They will commandeer a number of public streets on downtown Chicago’s lakefront, taking place on a 2.2-mile circuit that winds through the city’s Grant Park and along the historic Lake Shore Drive. The start and finish line will be situated directly in front of Buckingham Fountain, one of the largest public fountains in the world. The race will be televised on NBC.

“This is the ideal setting for the first-ever NASCAR Cup Series street race,” said Ben Kennedy, NASCAR senior vice president of racing development and strategy, in a prepared statement. “The NASCAR Cup Series Next Gen cars and the IMSA machines will race along the shores of Lake Michigan in downtown Chicago, marking a truly historic moment for our sport.”

Chicago has hosted a NASCAR Cup Series race once before, in 1956. Drivers raced in the city’s Soldier Field for that series. While NASCAR has held races on road courses since 1954, the 2023 race will mark the first time a Cup Series will take place on city streets.

“Historically we've always been short tracks, intermediates, superspeedways, eventually started getting more road courses. ... But the street course is something we haven’t explored a whole lot before, and the ability for us to get a downtown setting like his and bring racing to our fans, a street course is a perfect opportunity for it,” Kennedy told the AP on Tuesday afternoon.

He did not respond to a request for comment from Courthouse News.

At a press conference following the announcement, Lightfoot said she looked forward to “showcasing [Chicago] on a global stage.” Her office did not respond to a request for further comments.

“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure this race is a love letter to the city of Chicago,” Lightfoot said.

However, not all city officials shared her enthusiasm. During the press conference, Lightfoot declined to discuss details of how much the event would cost the city, something noted by several city councilors representing the areas where the race will take place.

“How much is this going to cost for us to bring NASCAR here? How much money are we going to receive from having this event here?” Alderwoman Pat Dowell said in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.

Dowell represents the city's majority-Black 3rd Ward, and she also expressed concern that her residents would be inconvenienced for an indeterminant amount of time while the races were underway. Her concern was shared by at least one Chicago man who works downtown, who asked to remain anonymous.

“I mean it's cool, but that sounds like it’s going to block off downtown for like a week,” he said.

Dowell and other city councilors also said they were irked for having been kept in the dark about the race announcement until the last minute. Lightfoot has earned a reputation over her mayoral tenure for springing major announcements and policy proposals on city council members with little preparation or discussion time, and it has led to fights between the mayor and council members both in and out of City Hall.

The announcement is especially poorly timed for 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly. The white, conservative alderman represents one of Chicago’s richest lakefront neighborhoods and has made his opposition to street racing known since at least 2019. He recently proposed an ordinance to the city’s Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Committee that would give Chicago police the power to impound vehicles they suspected were used for drag racing and drifting — even if the vehicle’s owners weren’t there to contest the accusation.

“There are real consequences for this activity,” Reilly told the committee members in a Monday meeting. “It places our communities at risk.”

The matter passed the committee with unanimous support on Monday, and is set to be voted on during the full City Council meeting on Wednesday, July 20. But some have already noted the apparent hypocrisy of city leadership announcing a massive NASCAR street race while also cracking down on regular citizens doing effectively the same thing.

“Oh the irony,” ABC 7 Chicago political reporter Craig Wall tweeted on Tuesday. “Mayor Lightfoot will be joined by NASCAR officials to announce plans for bringing racing to Chicago as the city council is poised to crack down on those drag racing and drifting on Chicago’s streets.”

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