NASCAR drivers ‘skeptical’ about the spectacle that will be the Chicago Street Race

MADISON — The NASCAR Cup Series revved up Sunday at World Wide Technology Raceway, six miles across the river from St. Louis.

The Illinois 300 didn’t last three laps before a crash occurred, involving Tyler Reddick, who drives for the 23XI team owned by Michael Jordan. As soon as Reddick got his car turned in the right direction again, lightning struck, causing a long delay that must have created a disappointing sensation for everyone who actually attended the race for the love of the sport.

At least one Chicago fish out of water spent the weekend wandering a facility that features a 1¼-mile oval track, a 2-mile speedway, a ¼-mile speedway and a go-kart track. In other words, this is racing country. No skyscrapers looming over speeding cars. There is no sparkling lake to take your breath away. And definitely no one is complaining about the large-scale street closures that obstruct construction in the heart of one of the busiest centers in the country.

NASCAR is coming to our town in less than a month for what is sure to be a wild and strange ride. The Chicago Street Race is scheduled for July 1-2 in downtown, with an Xfinity Series race on Saturday and the main event, the Grant Park 220 Cup race, on Sunday.

Big city street racing on Lake Shore Drive, Roosevelt Rd. and Michigan Ave., with Columbus Drive turned into Pit Row? Not just the usual left turns, but also, get this, right? It couldn’t be a more different experience, both for NASCAR and for us. We will also do this in 2024 and 2025.

How do drivers feel about it?

“I think we’re all excited and we’re all very nervous at the same time,” reigning Cup Series champion Joey Logano said.

“Running through the very narrow city streets, I honestly don’t know how it’s all going to work out,” said Bubba Wallace, another of Jordan’s drivers. “I think a lot of us are skeptics in the field.”

There will be seven hard-to-imagine 90-degree turns on the course, which in some cases (drivers guarantee) will lead to crashes as cars jammed together try and pass each other smoothly but fail. Again, the narrowness of certain fairways on the pitch, Balbo to name one, will pose a rare and potentially tricky challenge, as will the different surfaces from fairway to fairway.

“Usually we’re pretty broad,” Wallace said, “and we like to meet people.”

And the effects on Chicagoans over race weekend and in the weeks leading up to the race (significant street closures will begin June 25) will be real. The race itself is sure to be quite the spectacle, and some of the locals will love it. Others will inevitably be less than thrilled.

“There’s definitely a lot to do and a lot to do,” said Chicago Street Race President Julie Giese, “but things are going very well.”

How confident is Giese that the entire project will be a success?

“I have incredible confidence,” he said. “We see this as an opportunity to not only do our best for NASCAR but also for the city of Chicago. … And one thing I learned very early on in our planning meetings is that the city of Chicago knows how to put on great events.”