Racing Community Divided Over NASCAR’s Hefty Price To Ensure Chicago Street Course’s Return

Published 10/05/2023, 12:22 AM EDT

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The rain-drenched July race at Chicago remains indelibly etched in the annals of NASCAR. Not only was it NBC’s most-viewed NASCAR broadcast since 2017, but it also set an unparalleled benchmark as the most-streamed race in NBC’s repertoire. Amidst this backdrop, an emerging NASCAR Cup Series driver, Shane Van Gisbergen, dazzled the audience, clinching victory and defying expectations. The treacherous track, slick with rain, posed significant challenges akin to any Achilles’ heel for the seasoned racers.

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Given the unfamiliar terrain compounded by inclement weather, none of the drivers were truly braced for Chicago’s curveballs. Parallelly, Chicago’s residents, unacquainted with the nuances of a street course race, were caught off guard. They grappled with extensive traffic congestion and a downturn in local business activities. However, in a bid to harmonize racing with residents’ concerns, NASCAR has intimated a return to the Windy City, this time with considerations to alleviate some previously noted issues.

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This year, in July 2023, the Chicago event injected a formidable $8.3 million into state and local tax coffers and attracted a notable 52% of attendees from beyond the state borders. Yet, the economic boost didn’t wholly resonate with local sentiment. The bustling activities, concerts, and merchandise stalls that sprung up in the days preceding the race were a bone of contention for many residents. However, brushing aside the concerns, NASCAR’s official calendar for 2024, unveiled on Wednesday, has enshrined the Chicago Street Race for early July.

Post-race debriefs from this year spurred the Johnson Administration to engage in dialogue with NASCAR, aiming to strike a balance between local apprehensions and NASCAR’s considerable economic contributions. “At the conclusion of this year’s race, the Johnson Administration began conversations with NASCAR with the goal of addressing concerns raised by residents, alderpeople, and other stakeholders while acknowledging NASCAR’s contributions to the city’s economy and communities,” conveyed Johnson.

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Yet, the three-year contract, overseen by ex-mayor Lori Lightfoot, met with disapproval from activists, Chicago City Council members, and residents. They bemoaned clandestine negotiations that allegedly led to an unfavorable deal, impacting neighborhoods detrimentally.

For the 2024 agreement, however, the contract stipulates that NASCAR will remit $2 per ticket to the city, along with a share of net profits from food and beverage sales. Additionally, there’s a yearly licensing fee of $500,000. In reciprocity, NASCAR obtained rights over vast swathes of Grant Park for ancillary events, necessitating the closure of several primary streets, including the iconic DuSable Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Avenue.

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Furthermore, Johnson’s recent revelations hint at a shorter setup time for this year’s race, which could hit NASCAR’s purse. However, it’s expected to ease traffic woes for the local populace. The race’s organizers are also brainstorming ways to mitigate the city’s fiscal strain, which Johnson labels a “win” for Chicago. Delving deeper into community integration, Johnson shared, “Finally, NASCAR has committed to growing its impressive investments in Chicago communities and expanding opportunities for small-, minority-, and women-owned businesses to participate as vendors in 2024.”

Despite these changes potentially draining NASCAR’s resources, the motorsport community remains polarized over the decision to return to Chicago.

The prospect of NASCAR’s return to Chicago is met with a web of skepticism

Even the most sterling of events can crumble under local disapproval. This undercurrent of unease ran strong among fans as they absorbed the news of NASCAR’s encore in Chicago come 2024. A palpable concern was the city’s capricious weather, particularly given the similar seasonal scheduling. Queries arose, with fans wondering, “What they mean shorten the teardown and set up window? Is this going to affect the length of the races, and what happens if Mother Nature gets involved again.”

“Hopefully it won’t rain…..”

“Hopefully the weather cooperates.”

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Numerous voices were critical of the notion of NASCAR’s return to a seemingly indifferent Chicago. One comment encapsulated this sentiment by remarking, “There are many venues that would love to have a CUP race. How nice of Chicago to approve. (Tongue in cheek) Move that race to a community that welcomes NASCAR.”

Another said, “Get tf out of Chicago and move it to a city that actually cares instead of “a win for the tax-payers”. It’s the only time they care about people is when they have something going on in their city that they don’t like.”

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A NASCAR fan leveled a pointed remark at NASCAR, suggesting that the association’s re-entry into Chicago might come at a hefty cost: “So basically for NASCAR to be in Chicago it will have to foot the entire bill. Sounds like a great deal for the city of Chicago.” Yet, not all reactions were tinged with skepticism. A hopeful voice chimed in, “Wonder if it’ll be a full-blown music festival as intended last time. It just didn’t get a fair shake because of the weather. Glad to see it back on the schedule.”

Given a choice, which alternative city would you have pitched as a NASCAR venue over Chicago?

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Written by:

Neha Dwivedi

906Articles

One take at a time

Neha Dwivedi is a NASCAR Author for EssentiallySports. Transitioning from an engineering background to writing, she possesses a sharp eye for the sport's technical aspects. Her ability to capture the spirit of the exhilarating races and relay the enthusiasm to her readers distinguishes her as a sports journalist.
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Edited by:

Shivali Nathta

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