By Holly Cain, NASCAR Wire Service
For the first time in NASCAR Cup Series history, stock car’s biggest show is set to take place on the streets of downtown Chicago alongside iconic American backdrops like Lake Michigan and Grant Park.
NASCAR’s top executives and driver Bubba Wallace came to sunny downtown Chicago Tuesday afternoon and alongside Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and a large contingent of local officials, formally announced the unprecedented addition to the sport’s schedule revealing the NASCAR Cup Series will make its street race debut there Sunday, July 2, 2023; with an IMSA-sanctioned race held that Saturday, July 1.
“Monumental day in the history of our sport at NASCAR,” NASCAR Senior Vice President of Racing Development Ben Kennedy said, noting the first ever street race will come as the sport marks its 75th anniversary in 2023.
“Like the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum [in Los Angeles], we seized an incredible opportunity to add an unprecedented element to our schedule and take center stage in the heart of another major metropolitan market,” Kennedy said, referring to other bold new additions to the series schedule that included the hugely popular pre-season race held in the LA Coliseum this year.
“This is the ideal setting for the first-ever NASCAR Cup Series street race. 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.”
The race course, which will use parts of Lake Shore Drive, Michigan Avenue and Columbus Drive on its 12-turn 2.2-mile layout will feature a start-finish line along South Columbus Drive against the backdrop of the famed Buckingham Fountain. The course will include portions of Grant Park and even approach iconic Soldier Field – home to the only other NASCAR Cup Series race in downtown Chicago back in 1956 – navigating against famed skylines and beautiful lakeshore.
“When we started talking about this opportunity a year ago, the excitement among all of us and particularly me about the possibilities was just off the charts,” Lightfoot told the enthusiastic and sizeable crowd gathered downtown for the announcement. “This is a huge, huge sports town. I think that goes without saying.
“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 race courses, maybe ever, and introduce a whole new fan base to what NASCAR is about in the city of Chicago, we couldn’t pass up that opportunity.”
“Bold” and “innovative” were the words used most frequently by the speakers on stage Tuesday.
“I’d say of all the changes, this is our boldest change in the schedule,” Ben Kennedy said. “We’ve said, and it’s been pretty synonymous when we announced the schedules, that we want to be bold and innovative, and we think about new venues and new concepts that we’re going to. This is No. 1 on the list for us right now and it’s certainly going to be the most anticipated event of our season and one of the biggest sport events in our country in 2023.”
“When you think about Chicago, you think about the rich history of sports here, you think about the iconic skyline, you think about the iconic landmarks around the city, Navy Pier, Cloud Gate, a handful of them – to actually have our NASCAR Cup Series cars racing around the streets of Chicago is going to be something just incredible.”
Kennedy confirmed that the Chicago race – which is a three-year deal – will replace Wisconsin’s Road America road course event on the schedule next year but was open to a return to that popular Midwestern track in the future.
After the formal announcement, 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace drove his No 23 Toyota around the city in a ceremonial “first lap” drawing cheers from people on the sidewalk and from balconies as he zoomed by. Afterall, his race team co-owner Michael Jordan is a Chicago icon following his NBA Hall of Fame days playing for the city’s Chicago Bulls.
“Obviously, the majority owner of our team has done a lot for this city and knowing how much he means to city of Chicago I’m proud to carry that,” Wallace told the crowd before his lap behind the wheel.
And he added with a smile, “This [race] has fun written all over it.”
Tickets for the 2023 NASCAR Chicago Street Race Weekend will go on sale later this year at NASCARChicago.com with additional details of the event announced in coming months