Jul 3, 2023 - News

NASCAR Chicago weathers the storm

Race cars coming around a corner and Chicago skyline in background.

Drivers at turn five onto Columbus Drive during the NASCAR Xfinity Series The Loop 121 at the Chicago Street Course on July 01. Photo Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

NASCAR officials have been on a whirlwind promotional tour of the first-ever Chicago Street Race, but they couldn’t outrace the weather. Lightning and flash floods shortened Saturday's race and canceled evening concerts.

  • Also, a 53-year-old contract worker died Friday while setting up for the event. His cause of death was accidental electrocution, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office.

Driving the news: Thunderstorms and flash floods forced the gates to open later than scheduled Sunday, but they waved the green flag for the Grant Park 220 race a little after 5:35pm.

What they're saying: "With standing water and flooding a significant issue at the race track and throughout the city, there was no option to return to racing prior to shifting to NASCAR Cup Series race operations," NASCAR said in a statement about the Loop 121.

  • "Returning on Monday for the completion of a NASCAR Xfinity Series event two laps short of halfway was an option we chose not to employ."
  • Before Sunday's race, Mayor Brandon Johnson applauded NASCAR's commitment "to bringing the industry to the neighborhoods, like the West and South Sides … neighborhoods that have been ignored and neglected for too long." Johnson also joked that fans should stay after the race and "spend as much money as you possibly can."

State of play: Saturday ticket holders were given admission to Sunday's events, but the concerts were not rescheduled. Tickets started at $269 for weekend general admission.

  • Didzis Malderis, 25, from Latvia chose to watch from outside the fence at Michigan and Jackson. "The tickets I saw were super-expensive," Malderis told Axios.
  • Paola Castillo and her friends attended for the Chainsmokers. Castillo said her $130 one-day pass was in line with the price of other summer events.

Zoom in: Local businesses were well represented, with Mariano's, University of Chicago and Graziano's logos on the hoods of some of the cars. McDonald's was a title sponsor, slapping the golden arches all over the racetrack.

Details: Narrow turns, shorter stretches to accelerate, and slippery streets from record rainfall forced drivers to make several adjustments. “It’s one of the most mentally taxing races that we have because there’s just no room for error. You try to gain a foot here or there and you end up tagging the wall,” driver Denny Hamlin told NASCAR.com.

Man with folded arms across chest next to another man in baseball hat, skyscrapers in background.
NASCAR fans Paul Fodde, 26, left, and Liam Morast, 23, feel the sport is becoming more inclusive. Fodde identifies as AAPI, and Morast said he's half-Nigerian. Photo: Carrie Shepherd/Axios

Zoom out: NASCAR Chicago Street Race president Julie Giese said it was the first NASCAR race for 80% of ticket holders.

  • Karen Balogun, 49, of Blue Island told Axios she received free tickets after attending the Bubba Wallace Block Party last Wednesday at the DuSable Black History Museum.
  • Longtime fan Liam Morast, 23, applauded NASCAR's effort to grow its fanbase. "If you look at the history of NASCAR and the way that things have kind of developed, especially the last 10 to 15 years, there has been a strong and important precedent that's been set," Morast told Axios.

What's next: The event's economic impact will be clearer in the following weeks. There will also be questions about how much the city spent on overtime pay for Chicago police, fire, and OEMC workers that staffed the two-day event.

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