NASCAR replacing Road America with Chicago street-course race
By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer
CHICAGO — NASCAR will move a Cup Series race from rural Wisconsin to some of the busiest streets in the Midwest for 2023.
Out is Road America, the 4.025-mile road course about an hour north of Milwaukee; in are Michigan Avenue, Columbus Drive and Lake Shore Drive in the heart of Grant Park in Chicago. NASCAR and Chicago city officials announced Tuesday a deal that will bring a 2.2-mile, 12-turn course on the city streets in 2023, ‘24 and ’25.
While other racing series compete on street courses, the NASCAR Cup Series has not had a street-course event in its 74-year history. The July 2, 2023, race will be the first.
"The opportunity to bring something so unique as NASCAR to the city of Chicago, and I think it's going to be one of the most iconic racecourses maybe ever," Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said.
"[It will] introduce a whole new fan base to what NASCAR is about in the city of Chicago. We couldn't pass up that opportunity."
NASCAR Senior Vice President Ben Kennedy and Lightfoot did not give details on the financial deal struck between the city and the sanctioning body, though both said NASCAR is making a significant investment in the event.
Kennedy also said the move to leave Road America for Chicago after just two seasons wasn't a financial decision. NASCAR is expected to be the promoter of the race, sell the tickets and pocket the promoter portion of the television revenue for the race.
"This is going to be certainly a significant investment to build up the infrastructure and develop a temporary course here," Kennedy said. "For us, that [financials] wasn't a huge part of the calculation.
"It's more so for us being in a downtown location like this, a major market like Chicago and then again doing something for the very first time."
The course starts and ends in the middle of Grant Park, with the start-finish line at Buckingham Fountain. The cars will go both north and south on Columbus Drive, with much of the Chicago skyline in the view.
The cars will also be visible from Lake Michigan when they race on Lake Shore Drive. There will be a corporate hospitality viewing area — an important piece, as several NASCAR team sponsors, such as McDonald's, are headquartered in the area.
As far as infrastructure, NASCAR officials did not give many specifics on what improvements will need to be made to the streets. Kennedy said he believes the streets will be wide enough to create several passing areas. The Next Gen car is more nimble on road courses, which gives NASCAR hope that the event can be more than just a spectacle and actually a good race.
Regardless of the racing, this event is designed to attract new fans and increase the diversity of the NASCAR fan base. Kennedy was successful earlier this year with another non-traditional idea: He spearheaded NASCAR's building a temporary track inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the preseason exhibition Clash.
NASCAR officials estimated that 70% of the attendees for that event had never been to a NASCAR race. The numbers could be similar for the Chicago street race.
"We talk about how representation matters," said Bubba Wallace, the only Black driver in the Cup Series. "And I think exposing this sport to this area downtown with so much to do around while the race is going on is super important.
"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.' And I'm going to tell them, ‘Good luck.'"
Some might say "good luck" to NASCAR and city officials as they navigate the political waters of a street race and a new market.
Questions to Lightfoot following the news conference ranged from traffic issues to pollution concerns — very common questions when NASCAR enters an area where it has not raced before and communities question the value of a motorsports event.
Lightfoot said she hopes it can be an educational experience — something NASCAR, and especially team co-owner/entertainer Pitbull, have insisted it can be, in addition to a competition.
"What I most want to make sure is that people have an opportunity to experience this and our kids in particular learn the nuts and bolts of why the math that they're taking, the physics that they're taking, the science that they're taking is really going to fold into not necessarily being a professional race driver like Bubba Wallace, but the pit crews and all the science goes into putting these high-profile vehicles on to racetracks," she said.
Bob Pockrass has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s. He joined FOX Sports in 2019 following stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @bobpockrass. Looking for more NASCAR content? Sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass!