NASCAR course takes shape at Grant Park: ‘We’ve never built anything this large this fast’

NASCAR has begun work on all but two of its 13 grandstands and suites. But there’s still more work to do in the days before the July 1-2 races.

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Construction crew concrete barrier Balbo Drive NASCAR Chicago Street Race Grant Park

Construction crews install a concrete barrier on Balbo Drive Wednesday for the NASCAR Chicago Street Race in Grant Park.

Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

Balbo Drive near Buckingham Fountain looks ready for a NASCAR race.

Grandstands tower above the sidewalks of Balbo, one of the first streets to close for NASCAR, among many future closures. The street is lined with concrete barriers fitted with 8 feet of fencing to protect spectators from crash debris.

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With less than two weeks to go until the green flag drops, NASCAR’s Chicago Street Race course is taking shape around Grant Park.

NASCAR has begun work on all but two of its 13 grandstands and suites, according to Chicago Street Race President Julie Giese.

But there’s still more work to do in the days before the July 1-2 races, Giese told reporters during a tour of the course Wednesday.

Crews construct NASCAR’s Presidential Paddock Club on Columbus Drive for the Chicago Street Race in Grant Park on June 21, 2023.

Crews build NASCAR’s Presidential Paddock Club on Columbus Drive for the Chicago Street Race in Grant Park.

Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

“As you can see around you, the build is in full force,” Giese said as nearby construction workers hammered together grandstands along Pit Road on Columbus Drive.

NASCAR still needs to build elevated pedestrian bridges over the course, as well as jumbo screens for spectators in the reserved seating areas, she said.

The multistory President’s Paddock Club is taking shape on the west side of Columbus. The mass of I-beams will become home to air-conditioned luxury suites for ticket holders willing to spend more than $3,000 each.

“We’ve never built anything this large this fast,” said Jeremy Casperson, NASCAR’s director of civil engineering.

map NASCAR Chicago street race Grant Park.

The NASCAR layout in Grant Park.

NASCAR

The 75-year-old race franchise condensed its construction time frame to limit the length of street closures and time spent blocking public access to Grant Park.

Although NASCAR has flirted with racing outside its standard oval tracks before, as it did in Los Angeles’ Coliseum last year, the Chicago race is unique because of NASCAR’s commitment to balance its needs with the community’s, Casperson said.

“This is much different,” he said. “We’re being good partners with everyone, trying to keep the roads open and allow the city to function as it’s supposed to.”

The construction zone west of Buckingham Fountain was not bound by fences on Wednesday. Tourists walked freely among workers in hardhats carrying scaffolding beams — unusual for a construction zone.

Julie Giese, president of NASCAR’s Chicago Street Race, speaks in a news conference in Grant Park on Wednesday, June 21, 2023.

Julie Giese, president of NASCAR’s Chicago Street Race, talks to reporters Wednesday in Grant Park.

Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

Giese would not say what percentage of NASCAR’s construction workers live in the Chicago area.

“We have a good number of workforce local, and that will continue to grow as we get closer to the event weekend,” Giese said.

Giese referred to a study commissioned by NASCAR that predicted the race would spur $113 million in economic activity in the metro area.

Teams for the 40 NASCAR racers will arrive June 30, the Friday before the race, and set up their garages, Giese said.

Their stock cars will be fitted with mufflers for the second time in NASCAR’s history — after first using them at the Coliseum race. NASCAR announced it would use mufflers after neighbors and nearby museums said they were concerned about excessive noise. The cars should be about as loud as a motorcycle, officials have said.

NASCAR’s music stage has already been constructed in Hutchinson Field, just south of Buckingham Fountain, Giese said.

An overhead view of grandstands on Congress Plaza Drive ahead of NASCAR Chicago Street Race, Wednesday, June 21, 2023.

An overhead view of grandstands on Congress Plaza Drive ahead of NASCAR’s Chicago Street Race July 1-2.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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