Hundreds of kids get free NASCAR tickets at West Side community event

For two days in a row, NASCAR has given out race tickets to thousands of people at events on Chicago’s South and West Sides.

SHARE Hundreds of kids get free NASCAR tickets at West Side community event
Columbus Park campers kids children

Columbus Park campers wait for Mayor Brandon Johnson to take the stage and speak Thursday at Columbus Park in Chicago.

Owen Ziliak/Sun-Times

A lucky bunch of Chicago kids basked in the NASCAR winner’s circle Thursday when, for the second time in two days, officials gave out free tickets to this weekend’s races — a perk worth hundreds of dollars.

About 450 kids were given free two-day general admission tickets at a NASCAR event at the Columbus Park Teen Center in Austin. Many of them were there as part of summer programs on the West Side.

The thousands who attended Bubba Wallace’s block party in Washington Park on Wednesday night were also given free general admission tickets for Saturday and Sunday.

Lahmard Tate NASCAR Chicago Street Race Julie Giese, Mayor Brandon Johnson Larenz Tate children summer program

From left, actor Lahmard Tate, NASCAR Chicago Street Race President Julie Giese, Mayor Brandon Johnson and actor Larenz Tate meet children from West Side summer programs on Thursday in Columbus Park. The Tates will serve as honorary race officials this weekend.

Owen Ziliak/Sun-Times

Mayor Brandon Johnson, actors and brothers Lahmard and Larenz Tate, and Julie Giese, the president of the Chicago Street Race, also addressed the crowd.

“NASCAR has been an incredible partner throughout this entire journey,” Johnson said. “I’m so looking forward to making NASCAR’s first-ever street race fun, safe and successful and, of course, to showcase our amazing city.”

The Tate brothers, Chicago natives, will serve as honorary race officials this weekend.

“I’m a big NASCAR fan,” Lahmard Tate said. Growing up watching the sport, “we never saw ourselves in it. So to see Bubba Wallace is amazing and breaks down those stereotypes, especially showing that a lot of Black and Brown folks like NASCAR too.”

Caryn Grant diversity inclusion NASCAR Larenz Tate Mayor Brandon Johnson actor Lahmard Tate

From left, Caryn Grant, senior director of diversity and inclusion at NASCAR, moderates a Q&A with actor Larenz Tate, Mayor Brandon Johnson and actor Lahmard Tate. “I’m so looking forward to making NASCAR’s first-ever street race fun, safe and successful and, of course, to showcase our amazing city,” the mayor said.

Owen Ziliak/Sun-Times

The Tates and Johnson surprised the kids with the free tickets. They first asked the crowd if they would be going to the race, but many shouted back that tickets were too expensive.

“If things are a little too expensive, you got to make them affordable or even better, you got to make them available,” Johnson said.

“So we want to make sure our people get to experience NASCAR.”

Xavion Carter, 12, came to the Columbus Park event through Marillac St. Vincent Family Services, a Garfield Park organization that runs after-school and summer programs.

The kids learned about how a NASCAR pit crew works and career opportunities within the motorsport industry. They also had a chance to ask questions, which ranged from, “What happens if a tire pops?” and “What about if all the cars crash together at once?”

kids children NASCAR ask speak event

Kids ask questions about NASCAR pit stops Thursday. They were also told about career opportunities with NASCAR.

Owen Ziliak/Sun-Times

Xavion loves racecars. He correctly answered a question posed to the audience about what a pit crew does.

“A pit crew switches the tires out for the driver. They screw out the old tires and put in the new tires,” he said.

He learned how the crews work from the 2006 Disney movie “Cars,” which tells the story of a race car named Lightning McQueen that gets stranded on its way to a big race.

“I was watching that movie ‘Cars’ once. And I was really liking it. And then I saw these guys who helped with Lightning McQueen’s tires, and I learned that was the pit crew,” Xavion said.

He’s thrilled for the chance to see this weekend’s race in person, thanks to the free tickets.

“I love how the cars zoom past, and their super speed,” Xavion said.

Kids raise hands Columbus Park Teen Center NASCAR Chicago Street Race

Kids raise their hands to ask questions at the Columbus Park Teen Center in Austin. All the kids were given free two-day passes to the NASCAR Chicago Street Race this weekend.

Owen Ziliak/Sun-Times

Latoya Redmond, a manager with Marillac St. Vincent, said Thursday’s event was a special event for the kids. She found out about it on Tuesday and quickly signed campers up.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Redmond said. “One that these kids otherwise wouldn’t have.”

Columbus Park camper kid child NASCAR fireproof glove

A Columbus Park camper wears one of NASCAR racer Aric Almirola’s fireproof gloves.

Owen Ziliak/Sun-Times

Kids NASCAR fire suit gear

Kids inspect NASCAR racer Aric Almirola’s fire suit and other gear.

Owen Ziliak/Sun-Times

Mayor Brandon Johnson Columbus Park camper Chicago

Mayor Brandon Johnson shakes hands with a Columbus Park camper.

Owen Ziliak/Sun-Times

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