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All The Pros and Cons of Racing at the Chicago Street Course

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Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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It’s hard to find anything more polarizing in NASCAR these days than the Chicago Street Race. Some people love the idea, some people hate it. Well, as a resident of the Chicago-Metro area, and a lifelong NASCAR fan, here are some of the pros and cons of the race this coming weekend.

Pro: It’s New, and It’s Unique

NASCAR has never held a street race for its top division, and Chicago has never hosted a street race either for that matter. This is new territory for both entities, and means natural curiosity for both sides. NASCAR has not held a race for its top division inside of the city limits of Chicago since 1956, when they hosted a 200 lap race at Soldier Field.

Sure, Chicagoland Speedway hosted NASCAR for nearly two decades consecutively, but that was a cookie-cutter intermediate track that mimicked other tracks recently built on the schedule. This race is completely new, and it’s being held right in the heart of the city.

Con: There is a Reason NASCAR Did not Run on Street Courses in the Past

NASCAR stock cars just did not fit on street courses for the longest time. The big, bulky stock cars driving through a tight, twisty street circuit just felt like a bad idea. For the longest time, these cars could barely road race on their own, and, with so few of these races, drivers just did not see value in improving their skills too much.

Imagine if someone makes a simple mistake in a bulky stock car that would normally be just a spin into the grass on a normal race track. It could end up being a massive pile-up that could ruin the entire show. Plus, Chicago is not a place that has run a street race before, and who knows how the pavement will hold up?

Pro: It Brings NASCAR Racing to the People

One reason why the Clash at the Coliseum was such a success was because, as opposed to the normal NASCAR race track being out in the middle of nowhere, the race was in midst of Los Angeles. Yes it was not downtown L.A., but it was in the heart of the L.A. metro-area. People curious about the race did not have to drive 45 minutes-1 hour out of town to find the race track, it was right in their backyard.

The Chicago Street Race is doing the same thing, except it’s right in the heart of downtown. When you walk out of Millennium Station onto Michigan Avenue, you are literally two blocks from the race track. Plus those who are residents of the city can just walk to the race track or watch from their high-rises.

It’s a great sales pitch to new fans. “Have you wanted to go to a NASCAR race? Well, you don’t even have to leave your city, and we will bring the racing to you!”

Con: Is it the “Right” Market?

Why did NASCAR leave Chicagoland Speedway? Well, initially it was because of the global pandemic for 2020, but why have they not gone back? The racing product was good, and the current Next-Gen car races incredible on tracks like Chicagoland.

The reason why is that Chicagoland Speedways just did not draw enough fans. Now, NASCAR does not release attendance figures anymore, but, take my word for it, the final two years NASCAR was at Chicagoland Speedway, the stands were maybe around 60% full. Trust me, I was at those races, and they were a far cry from the crowds the race used to pull in.

It was sad to see personally, because Chicagoland was where I saw my first race, and it was an annual trip for my dad and me. However, I understood why NASCAR left when they announced they would not return in 2021, because the local support just was not there. Will the City of Chicago automatically support the race just because it’s in their city? That is in no way a guarantee.

Pro: The Racing Could Be Chaotic, but in a NASCAR Way

With there being minimal run-off and a narrow surface at a street course, there is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. How do you pass guys on a track like this? Well, it’s going to take some good old fashioned bumping, rubbing, pushing, and shoving.

THAT is what separates NASCAR from other motorsports, and the Chicago Street Race will lend itself to that. A little bit of chaos is not a bad thing in any way at a NASCAR race, and this track could allow for that to happen.

Con: The Next-Gen Road Course Product

The road course racing product has been under intense scrutiny this year. Circuit of the Americas was criticized for its wreckfest of a finish, and Sonoma was criticized for the difficulty to pass. The Chicago Street Course has the potential to go to both extremes.

The tight nature of a street course means that there could be lot of dumb incidents. However, the highly technical nature of a street course means it could lend itself to a Sonoma-like racing product. It could be very difficult to pass, and that could lead to a processional-type of race.

Conclusion

This is the ultimate wait and see type of event. I will be in attendance this weekend, and I am very curious to see not only the racing product, but how the local community supports the race. This could be a huge hit, and it could start a unique NASCAR tradition, but it could also go very bad very quickly.

The best thing to do is to harbor judgement until after the event is over. No one knows exactly how things will play out.

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Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

All Posts