An insider's guide to NASCAR Chicago: What to know if you go

Going to the NASCAR Chicago street race course isn’t like going to a typical speedway. Here are a few tips to make the most of your experience.

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Spectators watch as drivers warm up for the inaugural NASCAR Chicago Street Race, Saturday, July 1, 2023.

Spectators watch as drivers warm up for the inaugural NASCAR Chicago Street Race, Saturday, July 1, 2023. If you don’t have reserved seats, find a good spot for a view of the track in the general admission area and stick with it the whole race, advises one Sun-Times reporter who went last year.

Manuel Martinez/WBEZ file

This weekend marks the second iteration of NASCAR’s two Chicago street races — the Xfinity Series The Loop 110 on Saturday and the marquee Cup Series Grant Park 165 on Sunday.

I was on the ground reporting for the Sun-Times for all of NASCAR weekend last year. As a girl growing up in North Carolina, I had a brief NASCAR phase where I was following Cup Series races regularly. This makes me the de facto NASCAR expert on the Sun-Times audience team.

Last year’s Cup Series race was one of the most exciting races I’ve seen. A lot of the race was spent under caution due to crashes, and the race itself was cut short due to rain delays. But the narrow, turning track tested drivers’ skills and incentivized risky passes that were exciting to watch.

Going to the NASCAR Chicago street race course isn’t like going to a speedway. The track is so large and twisting, it’s hard to get across the whole course.

Here are a few tips to make the most of your experience:

Getting around the course

This proved to be an unexpected challenge last year as a journalist.

I spent most of the weekend waiting in line and just walking across the track. Walking from the press room at the Art Institute, through the temporary garages on Columbus Drive and past the vendors around Buckingham Fountain to the main concert stage at Festival Field was an adventure in and of itself.

Bridges are a major choke point if you’re trying to walk across the track. During busy times before and after races, long lines formed as people waited for their turn to cross the track.

I wound up spending Sunday’s race in the press room at the Art Institute, watching the TV broadcast and the track live feed to stay on top of the action and out of the rain.

If you don’t have reserved seats, find a good spot for a view of the track in the general admission area and stick with it the whole race. There will be lots of people competing for the few spots with views of the track that aren’t reserved for grandstands and pricey suites.

Bonus points if you can get a view of one of the big screens set up around the track with the live video feed. You can also watch live in-car and turn cameras and listen to race commentary on the NASCAR Tracks app. If you want to get even closer to the action, you can rent scanners ahead of time, starting at $48, to listen to driver and team radio chatter.

NASCAR’s website has an interactive map with the track layout so you can start planning your weekend now.

In this week’s “Polling Place,” we also asked for your thumbs-up or thumbs-down on NASCAR in Chicago with the second race weekend in the books.
The race created some new NASCAR fans. But some people also have problems with the traffic and other issues and wonder about whether it’s worth bringing back.
Two people who police say chained themselves to a fence around the race course on Sunday were arrested on suspicion of criminal trespass.
Jim Wales is a fan of NASCAR, but he’d like to see it directly invest in Grant Park. The community group leader pointed to Lollapalooza donating $500,000 to fix up the park’s tennis courts and add pickleball courts.
“Si estuviera aquí y viera su nombre en un auto de carreras en la Chicago Street Race, se quedaría absolutamente boquiabierto”, dijo Alex Maddox.
“It’s an incredible event,” Bowman said. “It’s been two chaotic races with the weather, but it’s been a super-fun event and really meaningful to be able to win.”
The northbound section of DuSable Lake Shore Drive is set to reopen Monday at 6 a.m., and the southbound section is on track to reopen Tuesday night, city officials say. The last of the road closures will be cleared July 18.
The start of the Grant Park 165 race was delayed by a downpour. Fans pulled on rain gear. ‘Us diehard NASCAR fans, we suffer through it,’ one fan said. Alex Bowman won the race.
Turnout to watch Keith Urban, the Chainsmokers and others was just a fraction of what Lollapalooza stars draw in Grant Park.
We got soaked again on Sunday, but at least we made a little more sense of things.
The defending Cup Series champion was sidelined after a crash in Stage 2.
The country star moved in and out of the crowd, playing feel-good songs in what he called ‘an alternate reality where everything is good.’

Where the action will be

Unlike a typical speedway with grandstands, you can’t easily get a view of all of the 2.2-mile track at once. When standing beside the track last year, attendees would hear a split second of loud, intense action as the pack passed by, followed by a minute and a half of quiet.

Unless you’re paying for a pricey premier hospitality suite — starting at $1,900 a ticket for panoramic views from above Pit Road — you’re only going to be able to see a small segment of the track, whether you’re in general admission, a grandstand or a hospitality club.

Like many Chicago drivers, cars will hit their top speeds on DuSable Lake Shore Drive. It’s the longest straightaway on the track and one of the best spots for passing. There are some general admission areas with views of that segment of the track, as well as suites.

Last year, drivers struggled to navigate turn 6 at Columbus and Balbo drives. A lot of the field found themselves getting acquainted with the shock-absorbing tire barrier in that corner, which comes after a long straightaway on Columbus. The north end of the general admission area on Columbus will give some views of that turn.

Turn 11 posed another problem. The corner of Michigan Avenue and Jackson Drive, with drivers coming off a tricky series of turns through Congress Plaza, was the site of a massive pileup last year that involved much of the field. The Michigan Avenue reserved stands will have a little bit of a view of that turn.

Pit Road and the start/finish line will be hot spots for action and postrace celebration as well, but that stretch of Columbus Drive is almost entirely lined with reserved grandstands and suites.

What if it rains?

This was a big problem last year. The Cup Series race on Sunday was significantly delayed due to rain and wound up being shortened to 75 laps as sunset loomed.

The Cup and Xfinity series cars, when outfitted with rain tires and small windshield wipers, can handle a little bit of rain but not very much. Wet track conditions at the start of last year’s Grant Park 220 after historic rains led to some exciting but difficult driving.

The bigger problem is for fans. If you’re not paying extra for a hospitality suite, you’re more or less out in the open. Attendees last year got soaked waiting for the race to start, and many of the much-hyped concerts got rained out.

If the race is canceled, NASCAR has a weather protection policy that will give a partial refund credit toward another race.

Food, swag and more

There will be lots of food options available at the track — if you’re willing to shell out.

Last year, a slice of deep-dish pizza from Lou Malnati’s cost $9, a smoked brisket sandwich set you back $16, and Chicago-style hot dogs were going for $9. On the drink front, a bottle of water was nearly $4, while a Bud Light cost $10.50 — or $63 for a six-pack.

Besides hospitality clubs sponsored by Jack Daniels, Jose Cuervo and Liquid Death, food and beverage concessionaires will be scattered throughout the track this year. Tents selling alcoholic beverages, barbecue sandwiches and Chicago-style classics will be near most viewing areas.

If you’re willing to cross some bridges, a number of vendors will be set up around Buckingham Fountain, including a McDonald’s pop-up restaurant, a Jose Cuervo bar hawking cocktails, a Bronzeville Winery tent with filet mignon sliders and a tent for Josephine’s Southern Cooking, the legendary South Side soul food spot that’ll be selling elotes, nachos and more.

Buckingham Fountain will also be a hub for merch and various other vendors and sponsors. Outside of the north gate, in Butler Field, there will be a small village of vendors, sponsors and food stands open to the public.

How loud will it be?

It’s quieter than you might think. My experience with NASCAR at Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina was much louder than last year’s race.

The race was NASCAR’s second time experimenting with mufflers on the cars, which lowers their horsepower but isn’t as big of a deal on a road course where average qualifying speeds topped out around 90 miles per hour, compared to 184 mph at the last Cup race in Charlotte.

Still, an unscientific survey my colleagues and I did last year registered noise levels in excess of 100 decibels when cars were on the track. If you’re on one of the bridges over the track during practice, the noise of the cars running under you will shake you up.

By comparison, professional PA systems typically pump out 120 decibels, and we measured about 65 decibels along Michigan Avenue when there were no cars on the track.

Experts recommend a well-fitting pair of earplugs or noise-reducing headphones to protect your hearing.

What if I don’t have tickets?

The best views are ticketed — and the best of the best views are from the pricey Skyline Suites

But last year, there were a few spots where you could see the action on the track without paying. One of the best was near Columbus Drive and Roosevelt Road, in Turn 5.

If you prefer to watch the race from the comfort of an air-conditioned bar, NASCAR has organized a series of watch parties around the city.

You can also catch the action on TV. NBC will carry both the Xfinity and Cup series races live. They’ll also be streamed on Peacock, NBC’s streaming service. You can watch practices and qualifying on Saturday on the USA Network.

2024 NASCAR Chicago street race

Schedule

Saturday
  • 9:00 a.m.: Xfinity Series practice and qualifying
  • 11:00 a.m.: House Music 40 Showcase
  • 11:30 a.m.: Cup Series practice and qualifying
  • 1:15 p.m.: Buddy Guy concert
  • 2:30 p.m.: The Loop 110
  • 5:00 p.m.: The Black Keys concert
  • 8:00 p.m.: The Chainsmokes concert
Sunday
  • 11:30 a.m.: Lauren Alaina concert
  • 1:00 p.m.: Keith Urban concert
  • 3:30 p.m.: Grant Park 165

More info

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A smart pit road gamble, keeping on rain tires while the leaders put on slick racing tires, put Bowman way out in front to win NASCAR’s second Cup Series street race in Chicago.
“Street tracks are different every year, no matter where you go,” Shane van Gisbergen said. “The burial location is always different, whether inside the curb or on top of it. The track always changes.”
“If he were here and he were to see his name on a race car at the Chicago Street Race, it would just absolutely blow his mind,” Alex Maddox said.
Chicago-style hot dogs, local barbecue and Garrett’s popcorn are on the menu at the festival grounds.
‘We’re just trying to get louder than those race cars,’ Dan Auerbach declared to a cheering crowd.
For 45 minutes, the 87-year-old blues guitarist ripped through solos, cracked jokes and flashed a bright smile throughout his Saturday afternoon set.
For nearly two hours, Festival Field grooved as attendees danced to classics sounds of the homegrown genre.
Last year’s race suffered from record-setting rainfall. But fans this year were graced with sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-70s, allowing them to enjoy live music and other entertainment that was rained out last year.
Practicing for his scheduled qualifying run before Saturday’s Xfinity Series Loop 110, Day totaled his ride when he crashed into Illinoisan Justin Allgaier’s stopped car.
“He’s just really good, and he doesn’t ever touch anybody to get by them,” said Kyle Larson, who finished third. “That’s rare to see, so it’s fun to race with a guy like that.’'

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One of the many parties celebrating 40 years of the genre, the Chosen Few Picnic & House Music Festival drew thousands to Jackson Park on Saturday.