By Ava O’Malley
Despite opposition from some City Council members and residents, plans for this summer’s NASCAR event still are underway.
Both the auto racing giant and the City continue to release more information as time counts down to the inaugural event. While residents remain concerned about safety, noise, park access, and road closures, representatives from NASCAR and the City are releasing traffic plans and holding virtual meetings to try to clear the air.
The Grant Park 220 NASCAR Cup Series Race & The Loop 121 NASCAR Xfinity Series Race will begin on Saturday, July 1, and end on Sunday, July 2. During this holiday weekend, Grant Park also will host an associated music festival featuring performances from the Chainsmokers, the Black Crowes, Miranda Lambert, and Charley Crockett.
Event preparation and teardown, however, will take more than 40 days, much longer than the previously promised two-week window. Several road closures and structural precautions will go into effect as early as Friday, June 2, according to official City plans.
According to NASCAR, “The Grant Park 220 will be a 220-mile race with 100 laps, and The Loop 121 will be 121 miles with 55 laps.” Both will occur on the same track, bordered by East Jackson Drive at the North, South Michigan Avenue at the west, South DuSable Lake Shore Drive at the east, and East Roosevelt Road at the south.
The two races are the first of several more to come, after Mayor Lori Lightfoot signed a multi-year contract with NASCAR that granted NASCAR permission to hold races on a 2.2 mile, 12-turn course in Chicago until 2027.
City officials, residents, and business owners have criticized the deal strongly, especially about overall revenue for the City. Some City Council members, such as recently re-elected Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward), feel Chicago will not make enough from the events to justify lengthy road and park closures to accommodate the two races.
“Judging from the details we are just learning now, it’s pretty obvious why the [Lightfoot] administration forbade NASCAR from sharing the terms of the deal with the alderpersons who represent impacted communities: the more we learn, the worse this deal gets,” Reilly said.
According to the 46-page permit agreement, NASCAR agreed to pay the City $2 per ticket sold, as well as a percentage of commission on food and beverage: 15% in 2023, 20% in 2024, then 25% in 2025. This deal excludes the cost of VIP tickets and corporate suites. The document also states NASCAR will pay the City $500,000 for this summer’s event, $550,000 for 2024, and $605,000 in 2025. The permit also details a $50,000 “security deposit” for each year the NASCAR event is active in Chicago.
“Compared to what we get from Lollapalooza, we get $6 million from Lollapalooza’s permit payments, we’re going to get under a million dollars from NASCAR for tying up downtown and Grant Park during the summer,” said another critic of the deal, 2nd Ward Alderman Brian Hopkins, whose ward also includes the downtown area.
On April 10, the City released an official schedule of road closures and parking restrictions that will go into effect in June; the schedule also details how to navigate pedestrian pathways during race weekend. The City stated that “all businesses and residences will remain accessible throughout the race weekend.” The first restriction starts Friday, June 2, when the City will restrict parking along Columbus Drive between Jackson and Balbo Drives.
Closures will continue to ramp up as the race weekend nears. The City stated “the most significant closures will start on Sunday, June 25 at 12:01 a.m. with the closure of Columbus Drive between Jackson Drive and Roosevelt Road. On Wednesday, June 28, at 10 p.m., southbound DuSable Lake Shore Drive from Randolph Street to McFetridge Drive will close. On Thursday, June 29, starting at 8 p.m., Roosevelt Road east of Columbus Drive and northbound Michigan Avenue will close. On Friday, June 30, at 5 p.m. southbound Michigan Avenue between Balbo Drive and Jackson Drive will close.”
“The City of Chicago has been working with NASCAR in the planning and execution of the races to minimize disruptions to residents and visitors while making it a safe event for everyone,” said Rich Guidice, executive director of the City’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC) under Lightfoot and incoming chief of staff for Mayor Brandon Johnson. “Safety is our top priority, and we will help monitor all race activity leading up to the event, through the race weekend, and following the event to help coordinate City resources and expectations.”
Grant Park difficult to access
Grant Park now will be difficult to access most of the summer due to large events such as NASCAR and Lollapalooza. Residents, small business owners, and Park District leaders also have voiced concerns regarding safety, waste, and park access.
City officials held a virtual meeting on April 12 with NASCAR representatives. The Grant Park Advisory Council (GPAC) also hosted a Zoom meeting April 19, in which NASCAR officials shared a presentation.
“From a Grant Park perspective, our main concern is park closures,” said Leslie Recht, GPAC president. “As well as so many closures in and around the park for such a long period of time. We’ve got summer camp starting on the 26th of June up at Maggie Daley Park. And that’s always been very popular. I’m concerned about how the parents are going to be able to bring the kids, drop them off, and pick them up. The drop off point is upper Randolph.
“And we’ve been asking those questions,” Recht continued. “And what we’re getting back is all, ‘from the South Loop. You can go down State Street and cut over on Washington and then go up to Randolph and go over.’ Well, how long is that going to take somebody? If the traffic gets pushed from Columbus, and you know, with all the closures Michigan Avenue is going to be a huge mess. It’s going to be very difficult.”
Despite contributing to road and park closures, NASCAR has reported it will “send 220 local youth (ages six to 12) to the Chicago Park District’s Summer Day Camp” in order to “recognize the 220 miles in the Cup Series race.”
“We are committed to being a good partner in this city,” said Julie Giese, who became president of the NASCAR Chicago Course. “To work alongside all of you to ensure everyone has a good idea of what to expect.”
Giese, who left her position as the Phoenix Raceway president to oversee operations in Chicago, led the April 12 virtual meeting. There, she said “the race is expected to generate more than $113 million for the local economy.”
Lollapalooza, on the other hand, had an impact of $335.4 million on the city in 2022, according to research group Angelou Economics.
“The people that are coming to this race are going to be eating in our restaurants, riding in our taxi cabs, landing at our airports,” said another race proponent, Michael Jacobs, president of the Illinois Hotel and Lobby Association. “And all of that helps to benefit the downtown area, helps benefit the city.”
Bonnie Sanchez-Carlson, president of the Near South Planning Board, stated her organization was concerned about traffic, safety, and congestion. She noted NASCAR officials were “transparent with information” and were “making their rounds” in the neighborhood.
Giese said speeds for the races will be lower than usual, due to the course’s shape, and she expressed optimism about access to the lake, parks, and Michigan Avenue; cleanup of Grant Park; and noise levels.
According to Giese, NASCAR will place more than 2,000 barriers along the course. She added that NASCAR has been testing technology to lower race car engines’ decibel output. In May, NASCAR teams will canvass local businesses and distribute more information.
Alderwoman Nicole Lee (11th Ward) said, “With NASCAR heading to Chicago this summer, I will work closely with the police department and my colleagues to ensure that our city and its neighborhoods are prepared and supported throughout the event.”
For GPAC, log on to www.facebook.com/ChicagoGPAC/. To contact Hopkins, log on to www.aldermanhopkins.com or call (312) 643-2299. To contact Lee, log on to www.chicago.gov/city/en/about/wards/11.html or call (773) 254-6677. For more on the NASCAR events, log on to www.nascarchicago.com. For the Near South Planning Board, log on to (312) 987-1980. To contact Reilly, log on to https://ward42chicago.com or call (312) 744-3062.