Chicago will be hosting its first ever street race today and tomorrow and, after walking the track and talking to drivers, I’m convinced might be absolutely wild. “It gets really wide and then it gets really narrow” is how NASCAR’s Parker Kligerman described it at our reader meetup last night. I think this is going to be a lot of fun.
In my career as a car journalist and automotive filmmaker I’ve been to countless race tracks and events, including street races. I’ve never quite seen anything like the race that Chicago has planned. There’s something about the scale of NASCAR itself, the layout of the track, and the incongruity of it all that’s got me super psyched.
We’re going to see cars that have never raced on anything close to this kind of pavement on a city layout that is nothing like any road course they use. I went to Eldora Speedway in Ohio when NASCAR first started experimenting with dirt racing and, honestly, I think this whole experience is going to be an even greater experience delta for everyone involved.
Here’s an example:
Even the smallest NASCAR facilities have pretty traditional setups for haulers and garages. Here, in Chicago, they have one half of Lake Shore Drive shut down to traffic and just have the big car haulers sitting in what used to be traffic. As I took this one of the crew members inquired to another driver ‘Hey Jimmy, you seen The Bean yet?’
I was in Montreal last weekend for the F1 race and that’s a quasi-street circuit like Belle Isle in Detroit, where IMSA and Indy Car used to run up until very recently. Those tracks have been in operation for a long time and, while they’re not traditional road courses, the infrastructure has been iteratively improved and optimized. Everything makes sense. In Chicago, walking around the track with friends we found:
A tire forest! Just some trees. Growing in the park. And then an 18-wheeler nesting in the allée.
My friend joked that if we come back in a couple of weeks we’re going to find a few little baby 18-wheelers.
Here’s the fantastic Art Institute of Chicago (you know, where the kids walk across the art holding hands in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”), which is being used as the media area as well as the driver’s lounge. I played a game where I asked everyone if there’s ever been a NASCAR race closer to a world class art museum. There has not, but credit to NBC’s Kim Coon for pointing out the Milwaukee Mile is only about seven miles from the better-than-you-would-guess Milwaukee Art Museum. Similarly, my friend Amy mentioned that the stellar Kimball Art Museum and also pretty great Amon Carter reside just 25 miles from Texas Motor Speedway.
All of these things are novel, but here are the reasons why I think this race is going to be particularly strange and fun:
The Chicago Track Is Going To Be Difficult
Here’s the layout of the track, which manages to squeeze in about 11 corners into just 2.2 miles. A lot of these are right angles, which aren’t necessarily great for passing, but they open up into super wide sections where there are plenty of places to pass that collapse into the narrowest sections that NASCAR has probably ever raced on. One driver described it as the love-child of the Toronto and ill-fated Houston Indy Car tracks.
The upside of this is I suspect we’ll see some insane moves. The downside is there’s a definite risk, a la the first Nashville Indy Car race, of drivers colliding at the narrow sections and causing a red flag, which stops the race temporarily.
Half The Cars Are Not Designed For This
NASCAR runs two different cars (and a truck, technically, but the trucks aren’t here). The ‘Next Gen’ cars that run in the higher level Cup series are quite modern race cars similar to what you’d find in Aussie V8 Supercars and DTM. They’re going to do fine here.
The Xfinity cars (that’s the more junior series) are exactly what you’d think a NASCAR stock car is like if you know nothing about the sport. They are designed, primarily, for ovals, with brakes that aren’t built for all this braking and a suspension not designed for a lot of bumps. Watching drivers in the Xfinity series trying to wrangle these cars around 55 laps of this thing could be great. Oh, and it might rain during their race.
Did I Mention How Pit Row Is Setup?
The pits at the street circuit comes right off a tight right-hander and, as we were standing there yesterday, a few people were remarking that, ahem, it might be fairly easy to bump someone into pit-in, forcing them into an unplanned pit stop. I can’t wait to see that.
Chaos Is Good
One of the drivers I spoke with sort of casually noted that, while most people in the sport are used to street courses from the many other series that run them, NASCAR can be a little slow to adapt. That’s fair, but I’d also note that the sport has been willing to try a lot of new things lately. Some of these make great parties (Clash at the Colosseum) and some make great racing (Charlotte Roval). I’m not sure which of these the NASCAR street race is going to be, but I’m excited to find out.
Also, we’ve already had a great party because our reader meetup yesterday at Portillo’s was great! Thanks to everyone who came.
How To Watch
UPDATE: Here’s how to watch the first race, which was postponed due to lightning:
My pick for Chicago street course Sunday: Bell … top-5: Bell Reddick Larson Hamlin Busch … longshot: Logano
11a-USA-Xfin race resumes, Lap 26 of 55
*(new time)5:05-NBC-Cup green 20-25-55, 6 sets
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) July 2, 2023