Life will soon be imitating art, when NASCAR hosts its first race on the streets of Chicago, a year on from the circuit featuring in virtual form as part of the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series.
Designed by iRacing itself, the course takes in some of the city’s most iconic landmarks, such as Grant Park and the Buckingham Fountain, close to the waterfront of Monroe Bay and Soldier Field stadium, home to the Chicago Bears.
The NASCAR stars will get their first taste of street racing for real on July 1-2, 2023.
NASCAR has been on something of a mission in recent years to spice up the show and bring its form of entertainment to new fans. An expansion of road course racing has followed, along with more innovative changes, such as the Bristol Dirt Race and the Busch Clash at LA Memorial Coliseum. Street racing, therefore, was perhaps the next logical extension.
Discussions had been taking place with the Chicago authorities for a number of years, with the area around Green Park identified as a home for a street race. That decision brought echoes of a decades earlier attempt to organise a Chicago street race; in September 1980, a Chicago Grand Prix was announced as part of the following year’s CART Indycar championship, with the event to take place on Independence Day, with a Can-Am race the following day.
The then Mayor Jane Byrne called it “an excellent way to showcase our city to the rest of the world.” Sadly, opposition soon mounted to the course, which was set to measure 2.7 miles and feature 11 turns. Opponents branded it a distraction from more important problems facing Chicago, such a crime and poverty. Disruption to major traffic routes were also cited and after just 44 days the event had been canned.
Fast forward 40 years and that opposition had faded, to the point that city authorities were once again ready to embrace the idea of racing. With NASCAR keen to establish a new home in Chicago, closer to the downtown area than its own Chicagoland Speedway, the idea was once again revived.
A virtual start becomes a reality
Perhaps unusually, NASCAR took the decision to employ iRacing to identify the layout of the circuit, using their expertise to create a virtual circuit, albeit with the intention of also creating the real thing in due course.
During the autumn of 2020, iRacing staff headed to downtown Chicago to scan the city streets with the goal of devising a viable racetrack. From these efforts, a recommendation of which streets would prove most suitable was put forward and a green light was given to produce the circuit in virtual form. Data from iRacing online sessions featuring the track and numerous races with drivers from the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series, the premier NASCAR esports series on iRacing, helped to hone the project.
The layout was then approved and unveiled for an eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series event that was televised live in June 2021. Fast forward to the next month and the announcement that the virtual circuit was going to become a reality in 2023, marking the first time the premier series had been seen on a street course.
“Seeing NASCAR on the streets of Chicago become a reality is a major accomplishment, and iRacing is thrilled to have played a part,” said iRacing executive vice president Steve Myers. “In recent years, the leading brands in motorsports have relied on iRacing to not only simulate their existing products, but also to experiment with new car and track concepts. Taking the NASCAR Cup Series to the streets for the first time in Chicago is a direct result of our work together, and we’re looking forward to seeing the concept come to life!”
The 2.14-mile, 12-turn circuit that was released to all iRacing members features many of the city’s iconic landmarks in the backdrop, including Grant Park and the Buckingham Fountain.
The NASCAR Cup Series race will debut on July 2, 2023, with a NASCAR Xfinity Series race held the the day before. The Chicago Street Race replaces Road America on the Cup Series schedule.
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