Address: Chicagoland Speedway, 500 Speedway Blvd., Joliet, IL 60433
PH: +1 815 722 5500
Circuit type: Permanent oval course
Chicagoland Speedway's 1.5 miles (2.4 km) tri-oval in Joliet, Illinois, opened in 2001 and has become a home for NASCAR in the Chicago area, hosting the opening race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Until recently, it was also a host for open-wheel racing and can boast to being the venue at which the IndyCar Series recorded its closest ever finish. The 75,000-seat, $130 million Speedway is the largest sporting facility in Illinois and occupies over 1,300 acres.
The venue's success was far from assured when the project began. Chicago had long been an untapped area for oval racing and various proposals came and went over the years without reaching fruition. Proposed venues in Kankakee, backed at various stages by Pocono Raceway owner Joe Mattioli and A.J. Foyt, and the Quad Cities, with support from Bruton Smith, fizzled out for financial reasons without ever breaking ground. Against this backdrop, in 1995 Bill France's International Speedway Corporation and Indianapolis Motor Speedway boss Tony George formed an alliance to search for a suitable site for racing.
Under the banner of the Motorsports Alliance, various sites were explored but each met with a similar lack of success, until Indycar team owner Dale Coyne stepped in to put the group in touch with local officials in Joliet, to the southwest of Chicago. Coyne had successfully built Route 66 Raceway, a drag strip and dirt oval facility, in the area and suggested the land adjacent might be favourable. An impact study revealed the new speedway would generate $300 million for the Joliet and Will County region and create over 3,000 jobs.
Joliet city council unanimously approved the speedway proposals on January 19, 1999 and Will County signalled their approval by extending an enterprise zone in order to give a tax break to the speedway developers. In May of that year, the Motorsports Alliance combined with Route 66 Raceway to form Raceway Associates with Coyne as president alongside George and France. Joie Chitwood III was named vice president and general manager of the massive facility. With all of the pieces finally in place, development of the 1.5 mile speedway could now begin in earnest.
Architecture and engineering firm HNTB, which had built stadiums and arenas such as the RCA Dome, Los Angeles Coliseum and the Rose Bowl, was selected to lead the design of the facility, while Bovis Lend Lease headed the construction of the speedway. Workers moved onto site in August 1999 and groundbreaking took place on September 28, 1999.
By May 2000, the new venue had been officially named as Chicagoland Speedway and the first races announced as Winston Cup, Busch, and IRL events. Construction continued throughout the year and into 2001, with completion in spring 2001. The circuit was officially opened on Saturday, June 23 in a special 'meet your seat' day attended by around 6,000 eager fans, who watch on as Joliet Mayor Arthur Schultz cut the ceremonial ribbon.
The NASCAR Tropicana 400 quickly became a sell-out event and the IRL event was also popular, with the track quickly gaining a reputation as one of the most competitive oval circuits in the IRL calendar. Many races saw extremely tight racing and close finishes, most notably 2002 when Sam Hornish, Jr. edged Al Unser, Jr. in a photo finish, officially by .0024 seconds, the closest in Indycar history. The battle had raged for the final 22 laps as the pair headed a huge ten-car two-abreast drafting pack. The following year's race was just as close, with Hornish again the victor, this time by .0099 seconds from Scott Dixon and Bryan Herta in a three-wide finish.
The Chicagoland race became the Indycar finale from 2006 to 2008, witnessing an epic battle for the title between Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon in 2007, resolved when the New Zealander ran out of fuel on the last lap, handing the race win and title to Franchitti.
Indycar officials elected to drop Chicagoland from its schedule in 2011, leaving NASCAR as the major draw. In 2008, the track installed lighting allowing a switch to night racing for its Sprint Cup race and two Nationwide races, while the racing calender is rounded out by a round of the Truck Series and a 150-mile ARCA race.
Chicagoland Speedway is in Joliet, Illinois, USA, southwest of Chicago, USA. Both of Chicago's main airports are within easy reach: Midway International Airport is closest at 42 miles (around 40 minute's drive), while O'Hare International Airport is 50 miles or just under an hour's drive.
By road, the circuit can be accessed from I-80, taking exit 132 onto Highway 52 and follow signs to the circuit. On NASCAR race days there are likely to be specific entry routes depending on your direction of travel, so check for details on the circuit website.
It's also possible to travel to the track by train on racedays, thanks to a shuttle bus service which ferries train passengers from Joliet's Union Station to the track. Tickets must be purchased from the circuit in advance, so again, check the website for details.