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Chicago Street Race Gives Life To 35-year-old Dream

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, July 20 2022

NASCAR Senior Vice President of Strategy and Innovation Ben Kennedy speaks during a press conference in in Chicago on Tuesday. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

In the mid-1980s NASCAR floated the idea of a LR Series — Left-Right — consisting solely of road racing events. The premise behind the new series was to give NASCAR entrance into markets where it had never been. It was supposed to make its debut in 1987 with three or four events. 

Several Cup drivers quickly lined up a ride for the 1986 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring, hoping to gain an advantage over their competitors. Those drivers were Bill Elliott, Ricky Rudd, Kyle Petty, Ken Schrader, Terry Labonte, Harry Gant, Phil Parsons, Darrell Waltrip and Benny Parsons. However, the series was tabled before it ever made its debut because the stock cars raced in NASCAR during that era weren’t conducive to street racing.

Fast forward nearly 40 years. With the arrival of the Next Gen car, NASCAR now has a car nimble enough to race through a city’s streets.

While the Next Gen car wasn’t developed “to go street course racing,” says NASCAR Senior Vice President, Racing Development & Strategy, Ben Kennedy, he does believe the car will “perform really well on a street course.”

If that proves true on July 2, 2023, in Chicago, NASCAR has opened a door that will allow it to compete for exposure in major markets with IndyCar, Formula One and Formula E. Last weekend Formula E was in New York City. IndyCar will race through Detroit’s streets next year and Formula One is scheduled for a Las Vegas visit along with Miami and the Circuit of the Americas. 

NASCAR’s Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., was almost 46 miles from Chicago. With the tentative 2.2-mile street course unveiled Tuesday, the Chicago skyline will provide the backdrop for the race that will be in the heart of Grant Park. It marks the first time NASCAR has been in the Windy City since July 21, 1956, when it conducted a 200-lap race at Soldier Field.

Next year’s proposed course takes the cars past Soldier Field as well as Buckingham Fountain and Millennium Park. Kennedy noted that when the cars head north on S. Columbus Dr. the track should be seven lanes wide, creating several passing zones. 

For those who enjoyed attending the NASCAR Cup race at Road America on the Fourth of July weekend the last two years, Tuesday’s announcement was disheartening and a bitter pill to swallow. Kennedy said that “just because it’s a no for 2023 doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a no forever.” He also didn’t rule out the Xfinity and Camping World Truck series having Road America on one or both of their schedules.

Since IMSA shares next year’s Fourth of July weekend with the NASCAR Cup Series, the event will draw sports car and stock car enthusiasts while introducing the sport to potentially new fans. With short tracks, intermediate facilities, superspeedways, road courses and now a street course in 2023, NASCAR’s Cup Series possesses a diversity never seen since the series made its debut in 1949 as Strictly Stock. There will be NASCAR fans who have nothing but distain for the Chicago event. However, it’s the diversity in the NASCAR Cup schedule that grows the sport’s fan base.

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, July 20 2022
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