Jun 20, 2023 - News

Chicago's NASCAR race is full speed ahead, but alders have questions

Concrete lamp posts, gray and brown buildings, bleachers, and construction materials at the Van Buren bridge looking west, for the set-up of the NASCAR street race.

Construction crews set up bleachers at Michigan Avenue and Van Buren Street ahead of the NASCAR Chicago Street Race scheduled for July 1 -2. Photo: Carrie Shepherd/Axios

Chicago is just two weeks out from the very first NASCAR Street Race.

Why it matters: The 2.2-mile racetrack will go through downtown and could draw an additional 100,000 people over the first weekend of July. But alderpeople are raising concerns they've heard from constituents.

Driving the news: 1st Ward alderman Daniel La Spata said last week that street closings are creating safety concerns for cyclists and pedestrians.

  • Speaking at the City Council Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety's first meeting about the race, La Spata also brought up the recent rise in bike-related fatalities.
  • Ald. Derrick Curtis complained about high ticket prices — $269 for general admission — which he says are deterring residents of his Southwest Side ward.

The other side: Chicago Department of Transportation's Bryan Gallardo says protective barriers and fewer cars east of Michigan Avenue during race weekend will help keep pedestrians safe.

  • Meanwhile, NASCAR Chicago president Julie Giese says there will be a free NASCAR Village at Butler Field, though it will close once the race starts.

Between the lines: Downtown alderpeople Brendan Reilly and Pat Dowell again slammed former Mayor Lori Lightfoot's "ham-handedness" and "lack of transparency" in pushing the NASCAR race on residents, especially for constituents who won't be able to avoid it.

Reality check: When big events take over downtown Chicago, they have a huge impact on public safety efforts.

  • Deputy chief Daniel O'Connor testified last week that CPD will deploy off-duty officers, cancel days off and offer voluntary overtime.
  • Reilly demanded a detailed accounting of how many officers will be deployed and how many officers' days off are being canceled for NASCAR, including a budget of how much it will cost and who will foot the bill.

What they're saying: NASCAR continues to insist the cash and attention the race will bring to Chicago will outweigh the headaches.

  • NASCAR officials expect a $113 million economic impact and about 50,000 attendees each day, Giese told the committee.
  • Partnerships with Chicago staples like Lettuce Entertain You, Chicago Public Schools and Afterschool Matters make it clear NASCAR is in for the long haul with this event, at least until 2025.

What's next: Who's excited for the first NASCAR Chicago Street Race? Fans from all 50 states and 13 countries, Giese says.

  • Are YOU one of them? Email us for an upcoming newsletter.
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