NASCAR moves to Chicago as plans for first ever street race take shape | State and Region


CHICAGO — NASCAR has appointed a veteran racing executive to oversee its first-ever street race in Chicago as it prepares for a Lollapalooza-like festival at Grant Park next July 4 weekend.

Julie Giese, who runs Phoenix Raceway, will relocate to Chicago and open a year-round office to create the pop-up Chicago Street Course, which will include a weekend of activities, weeks of on-site preparation and lots of planning. to remove.

“My role starts immediately,” said Giese, 45. “Now that we have the concept and moving forward, it’s about building the team, having conversations with the city of Chicago and really working on our commitment to the city.”

The first job is to create a permanent office for NASCAR in Chicago. Giese is exploring space near the park and plans to hire a dozen full-time employees dedicated exclusively to the annual Chicago event, which NASCAR sees as a major opportunity to attract new fans to motor racing.

The Cup Series televised event, scheduled for July 2, will feature a 12-turn, 2.2-mile course, with top NASCAR drivers weaving in and around Grant Park on closed streets lined with temporary fencing, grandstands, hospitality suites and what promoters hope will be over 100,000 fans over the weekend.

A separate sports car race is scheduled for July 1, and NASCAR plans to hold a concert after both races to create a festival experience similar to other events held at Grant Park, such as Lollapalooza. But Giese acknowledges that Chicago Street Race Weekend is unlike anything NASCAR, or the city, has seen.

“This is the first time in 75 years of NASCAR that we’ve done a street course, so it’s definitely different,” she said.

Announced last month, NASCAR has reached a three-year deal to turn the Grant Park area into a racetrack. Under terms of the agreement, NASCAR will pay the Chicago Park District license fees of $500,000 for next year, $550,000 in 2024 and $605,000 in 2025, with an option to renew for two years. In addition, NASCAR will pay the Park District a $2 fee per admission ticket and an escalating commission starting at 15% for food, beverages and merchandise sold at the event.

The proposed route will start on Columbus Drive in front of Buckingham Fountain, an area that will also serve as a pit road. From there, drivers will head south to Balbo Drive, then run east to Jean Baptiste Point DuSable Lake Shore Drive. Heading south along the lake, drivers will turn west on Roosevelt Road, returning north on Columbus Drive in a rough figure eight that will cross a piece of South Michigan Avenue before reaching the line of departure / arrival.

NASCAR has full access to the racetrack area for nine days before and three days after the event. But the total staging window – the process of building and tearing down temporary facilities – lasts a full month, starting three weeks before race weekend, according to the agreement.

Continuous street closures will likely begin the week of June 26, Giese said, with the course reopening to traffic “as soon as possible” after the race.

“The streets themselves really won’t be closed until race week,” she said.

Giese, who grew up on a family dairy farm in central Wisconsin, will move to Chicago later this year from Arizona, where she led the $178 million modernization of Phoenix Raceway. The 21-year-old NASCAR veteran was previously at Daytona International Speedway in Florida, where she took part in the racetrack’s $400 million redevelopment.

She declined to disclose the budget for the Chicago event, but called it a “significant investment” for Florida-based NASCAR, which became a private company following its $2 billion merger. with International Speedway Corp. in 2019.

“We don’t go into finance, but it’s a huge investment for us,” Giese said. “And the one that excites us. This is a huge initiative for NASCAR.

The event could be a boost for tourism in Chicago, which has been hit hard by the pandemic. The city welcomed 30.7 million visitors last year, up 86% from 2020 but still well below pre-pandemic years, when the city regularly welcomed more than 50 million visitors a year.

Major events such as the NFL Draft and the Lollapalooza Summer Music Festival, held annually in Grant Park, not only attract visitors, but potentially millions of dollars in economic impact for the city.

Giese said NASCAR has conducted a preliminary financial study that shows Chicago Street Race Weekend could generate more than $100 million in annual economic impact for the city.

NASCAR is also looking to create economic benefit from the event, particularly after absorbing the start-up costs of initial construction. Giese said NASCAR is already exploring where to store yet-to-be-built facilities in the Chicago area for reuse in subsequent summers.

But Chicago street racing’s primary goal is to promote NASCAR and expand its fanbase, Giese said. She cited the Busch Light Clash, which moved from Daytona to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in February, with 70% of participants new to the sport.

“It follows on from that and takes it even further,” Giese said. “We want to continue to take our sport to new markets and introduce it to new fans. This is a perfect opportunity to do that.

Giese said NASCAR will look to community engagement to cultivate a new urban following beyond its traditional fan base, with outreach activities with Boys & Girls Clubs, Chicago Public Schools and the Park District.

While Giese said the Chicago event is aimed at bringing new fans into the NASCAR fold, it’s unclear if the street course will be able to accommodate diehard RV enthusiasts who regularly camp in the infields of the permanent speed lanes during race weeks. .

This isn’t the first NASCAR race to be held in Chicago, nor the first time the city has aspired to turn Lake Shore Drive into a racetrack. Soldier Field hosted a NASCAR Cup Series race in July 1956. A quarter of a century later, then-Mayor Jane Byrne floated the idea of ​​having a Formula 1 race on Lake Shore Drive at the summer of 1981, but it turned out to be a failure.

The Chicago area has hosted the NASCAR circuit in recent years, with Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet hosting races starting in 2001. But the 21-year-old track has been inactive since the NASCAR merger, and Giese said it won’t reopen for the race. until the three-to-five-year deal with Chicago runs its course.

“Right now our focus is on making Chicago a success,” Giese said.

Tickets for Chicago Street Race Weekend are expected to go on sale this fall.

Alejandro L. Myatt