NASCAR street races forcing Museum Campus closures: Another summer headache for Chicago

Much of Grant Park will be closed to accommodate NASCAR. Now the Field Museum and the Shedd Aquarium have announced schedule changes because of road closures and expected crowds.

SHARE NASCAR street races forcing Museum Campus closures: Another summer headache for Chicago
NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace drives a stock car around downtown Chicago in July 2022, after the announcement that NASCAR will hold a race in the city each year for three years, starting in 2023.

NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace drives a stock car around downtown Chicago in July 2022, after the announcement that NASCAR will hold a race in the city each year for three years, starting in 2023.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

If any more evidence is needed against bringing NASCAR street races to our downtown lakefront, it’s this: The Shedd Aquarium announced it’ll be closed during the event’s opening weekend.

Officials at the Field Museum and the Shedd said they’ll shorten operating hours from Wednesday, June 28 to Monday, July 3, because of crowds and road closures that are expected because of the races.

The Shedd will shut down entirely on NASCAR weekend.

It’s bad enough that much of historic Grant Park has to be closed to accommodate NASCAR. But now two of the museums that make up the city’s nationally-recognized cultural center have to adjust their hours and take a backseat as well?

It’s a travesty.

Editorials bug

Editorials

Sure, the NASCAR races will bring tourism and revenue to Chicago, pumping an estimated $113 million into the economy, according to NASCAR. And yes, there’s something to be said for showcasing our city on an international stage, as a reminder that Chicago really is about so much more than the gun violence that too often defines it in the eyes of the rest of the world.

But Lollapalooza, another Grant Park headache Chicagoans rightly grumble about every summer, generates three times the economic benefit estimated for NASCAR, in less time and with less disruption. And Chicago already has plenty of opportunity to showcase its beauty and culture. An event like NASCAR — which, it’s worth stating again, City Council never got the chance to vet beforehand — would have to pay off, big-time, to make it worth the public’s while in lost access to its premier park and museums.

According to a joint statement from the museums, the Field will open at 10 a.m. and close at 4 p.m. on the weekend of the race. The museum will be open during its normal hours, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., on the Thursday and Friday before the race.

The Shedd will be closed during the inaugural NASCAR weekend July 1-2, but plans to be open with reduced hours on the Thursday and Friday before the race and the Monday following the event: opening at 10 a.m. rather than 9 a.m., and closing at 4 p.m. instead of 5 p.m.

The Adler Planetarium will keep its regular 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. schedule during NASCAR weekend and the days leading up to the event.

New York City protected Central Park from Formula One

Just last month, race and city officials released the traffic plan for the event that included about three weeks of road closures before, during and after the races. But something like this should have been vetted and rolled out months earlier, given Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced NASCAR plans last summer.

Instead, it’s adding up, bit by bit, to a senseless mistreatment of Grant Park, downtown, the lakefront, and now the city’s cultural institutions — to say nothing of the public approval process that Lightfoot avoided like a bump in the road last year.

We hate comparisons to New York City. But would the Big Apple treat Central Park and its surroundings like this?

Nope.

Last year Greg Maffei, CEO and president of Liberty Media, the company that owns Formula One racing rights, wanted to bring F1 to New York City.

But Mayor Eric Adams offered the company 500-acre Randalls Island — not Central Park.

“Their proposal, Randalls Island, is probably not our perfect venue,” Maffei said. He also realized: “New York is a wonderful venue, but it’s hard to see that they’re going to shut Central Park for us.”

So F1 sped off. And New York City survived. Which would’ve been a great lesson for Lightfoot.

The city is stuck with downtown NASCAR for three years.

If the payoff doesn’t pan out, incoming Mayor Brandon Johnson, his team and City Council should look for a way to move the races to a better site away from downtown next year, or even cut NASCAR ties totally if that what it takes for the sake of downtown, Grant Park and the Museum Campus.

Lightfoot is taking victory laps this week heralding her term as mayor. Meanwhile, the city is stuck with an event, brought under her administration, that raised red flags from the very start.

The Sun-Times welcomes letters to the editor and op-eds. Here are our guidelines.

The Latest
The girl was crossing the street with two women in the 9500 block of South Paxton Avenue about 8:40 p.m. July 18 when the driver drove through a red light and struck her. The girl was injured.
Police say a tree trimmer was shot and wounded and a man barricaded himself in his home in the 800 block of South Braintree Drive about 2:50 p.m. Wednesday. He surrendered without incident Wednesday evening.
Unbearable 14th century Italians flee deadly disease in Netflix series that’s not as edgy as it thinks it is.
The 40-year friendship of its central figures (played by Bette Midler, Susan Sarandon, Megan Mullally and Sheryl Lee Ralph) is barely explored in a comedy more focused on wild hijinks.