As Chicago NASCAR Weekend Nears, Residents and Workers Weigh In

“Chicago Tonight” is hitting the streets to speak with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders.

It’s almost go time for NASCAR in Chicago — a weekend the 75-year-old racing institution and city officials have been preparing for almost a year.

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The 12-turn, 2.2-mile street course will run on Lake Shore Drive, Michigan Avenue and South Columbus Drive.

People are feeling all sorts of emotions — from excitement to curiosity to concern.

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Meanwhile, some nearby neighbors told “Chicago Tonight” they’re lying low this weekend as thousands of tourists start to pour into the city.

Nick Cole and Diane Pyle live in a high-rise off Michigan Avenue and Jackson Drive — just steps away from the NASCAR street course.

“We’re hunkering down,” Cole said. “We got a lot of groceries, and we’re not moving, I don’t think. What’s it gonna be like? Is it gonna be loud and greasy and oily, smoky and terrible? Or is it gonna be something cool? I don’t know.”

They said the city is entering unknown territory.

“I’m curious how they’re going to make that turn,” Pyle wondered. “How are you going to turn off of Michigan Avenue onto Jackson in a stock car? What does that look like? How do they pass?”

Major street closures on Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Avenue started Wednesday night.

But a block away, Grant Park Bistro managers have already planned ahead.

“We already have our deliveries in so we don’t have our delivery drivers coming in trying to navigate the streets,” said manager Jordan Dela Cruz. “That might be the toughest thing Chicagoans are gonna have to face, but if you’re coming to an event in Grant Park, you’re walking anyway.”

Despite the headaches, Dela Cruz said it’s time for the city to buckle up and enjoy the ride.

“I’ve never been to a NASCAR race, so I want to see it live,” Dela Cruz said. “I want to see cars flying by. I want to hear it, ya know? I want to see people excited about it.”

Read More: UChicago Alumnus Making NASCAR Xfinity Series Debut in City He Used to Call Home

NASCAR said ticket holders will be coming in from all 50 states and 14 countries.

About 80% of visitors are attending their first NASCAR race.

“We are tremendously excited,” said Julie Giese, who is heading the NASCAR Chicago Street Race project. “This is a huge opportunity for NASCAR and the city of Chicago, and I think it’s going to be a spectacular weekend.”

Gabor Madar is in town from Detroit. He’s a lifelong NASCAR fan, but said he had to put the brakes on this one.

“Prices are a little bit too tough for us,” Madar said. “We were very surprised at how much grandstand tickets are. Don’t get me wrong, it’s probably justified. The experience is probably once in a lifetime.”

The street race is meant to drive tourism, but it’s still unclear how many locals are attending.

“It’s a great mix, a very good balance right now,” Giese said. “I don’t have the exact numbers, but we’re seeing a lot of locals participating as part of that GA ticket.”

Meanwhile, Chicago police officers are working overtime this holiday weekend coupled with private security guards. Nearby buildings are setting up pitstops of their own for them.

“Police working extra shifts can come over to our building — get a snack and water, a clean bathroom, and just have a minute to recharge,” Pyle said.

The race has been shrouded in some controversy from the very beginning. Former Mayor Lori Lightfoot struck the deal before City Council had a chance to weigh in.

“Friends of the Parks believes these types of things should be vetted more broadly and planned with more time,” said Juanita Irizarry of Friends of the Parks. “Everybody else just kind of had to get with the program so we look for a different approach from Mayor Johnson.”

Jim Wales from South Loop Neighbors said NASCAR has been willing to work with the group to address concerns. But the race is one of many events that will keep his neighborhood park partially or fully closed off for the majority of summer.

“Grant Park is not only the front yard of Chicago, it’s also the neighborhood park for well over 100,000 people, and there has to be more extensive dialogue with the citizens who live down here,” Wales said.

Meanwhile, Cole and Pyle are keeping an open mind and reserving judgment until after race officials wave that checkered flag.

“It could be great for the city,” Cole said. “Most people’s initial reaction is ‘What?’ But maybe it’ll work. We’ll see.”

Community Reporting Series

“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re hitting the streets to speak with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we’ve been and what we’ve learned by using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Points in red represent our series COVID-19 Across Chicago; blue marks our series “Chicago Tonight” in Your Neighborhood.

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