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Speed Reading: Chicago all-stars in cars
|Second City stars start their engines|
For the longtime race fan, it may still be difficult to think of Chicago as a NASCAR town, what with the Cubs on the rebound, the White Sox in first place, the Bulls in the playoffs and the Bears... well, the Bears have to get better sometime, right?
But if you do a little digging (and use your imagination) you may realize that the Windy City is more suited for stock car racing than you might think. For example, did you know that long before the Chicagoland Speedway opened its gates in 2001, there had already been two Nextel Cup (then Grand National) races run in the Chicago area? In 1954, Dick Rathmann won on a half-mile dirt track in Willow Springs, and two years later, Fireball Roberts was victorious on a half-mile oval inside Soldier Field.
And Elmhurst's Fred Lorenzen is widely considered one of the most talented drivers in NASCAR history, winning 26 races and 33 poles between 1956 and '72.
When it comes to Chicago's NASCAR roots, that's about it. But just imagine what kind of stock car racing history the Second City could have come up with if it had just set its mind to it years ago. We might be talking about Da Cup instead of Da Bears or Da Bullz.
So, join us now as we think about what could have been and identify the Chicago legends that would have made the best stock car beaters and bangers.
5. Michael Jordan
He grew up in North Carolina, the cradle of NASCAR's greatest drivers, his former Tarheel teammate Brad Daugherty is a confessed racing junkie and used to own a Craftsman Truck Series team. And if M.J. can hang 38 points on the Utah Jazz with a raging case of the flu, not to mention hit three homers and steal 30 bases in AA baseball, we're betting he would figure out the driving thing pretty quick.
Deep Dish Facts: The only Jordan to start a Cup race was Houston's Ed Jordan, who made three starts in 1966... The number 23 has been used by 33 drivers, but has never won a Cup race.
4. Dick Butkus
Butkus never raced, but the linebacker-turned-actor was in Mother, Jugs & Speed in 1976, a flick about ambulance drivers racing each other to accident scenes.
Deep Dish Facts: Number 51 has graced Cup cars driven by the likes of A.J. Foyt, Johnny Rutherford and Greg Sacks, but has yet to visit Victory Lane in 29 years of trying... Cole Trickle (Tom Cruise) drove the #51 Mello Yello Chevy in Days of Thunder.
3. Walter Payton
But if you ask us, the greatest running back that ever lived had a mentality that was best-suited for stock car racing. His running style was once described as "one part Brahma bull, one part waterbug". Sounds like the perfect way to make the transition from Martinsville to Talladega to us!
Deep Dish Facts: The number 34 has been driven by 17 different Cup drivers, but never for more than four starts in a season... Payton first played at Soldier Field in 1975, five years after the infield racetrack was pulled up to make room for the Bears.
2. Al Capone
True, kingpins never drive their own vehicles, but how menacing would it be to see a big sedan roll up behind you on the backstretch and see a Tommy Gun sticking out the window?
Deep Dish Facts: Alphonse "Scarface" Capone's birthday was January 17, the same as Michael "Fatback" McSwain.
1. Jake and Elwood Blues
Plus, NASCAR wouldn't have to worry about building anymore new racetracks. These guys prefer to do their racing inside shopping malls.
Deep Dish Facts: In 2003, Dan "Elwood" Aykroyd and NASCAR driver Jeff Burton teamed up to film a commercial reminding drivers not to ignore their engine service light... Kyle Petty ran a paint scheme promoting the sequel Blues Brothers 2000 in, you guessed it, 2000.
Failed to qualify: Shoeless Joe Jackson (no shoes = burned heels), Ferris Bueller (Cameron's Dad's Porsche wouldn't pass tech inspection), Ernie Banks (they would never let him play two), Buddy Guy (you can't play blues guitar and keep both hands on the wheel).
Ryan McGee is the managing editor at NASCAR Images and Senior Producer of NASCAR Nation on SPEED Channel. He can be reached at his e-mail address: email@example.com.