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Chicago Street Race Aims to Grow NASCAR, Deliver Action

It's conceptually similar to The Clash at the Los Angeles Coliseum.


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Under its current leadership group, the NASCAR Cup Series is a blank slate that can be reshaped into anything in the pursuit of new frontiers, an expanded audience and its greatest spectacle yet.

Tabula rasa.

That’s not to say some things aren’t treated as sacred. The Southern 500 is back to Labor Day weekend and the modern powers that be are collectively looking to restore the likes of Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway and North Wilkesboro Speedway, while perhaps reconfiguring Auto Club Speedway into a short track.

It’s the complete opposite of the previous leadership group that largely sat on the same schedule for 20 years and was unwilling to take big swings in the fear that the house of cards would come crumbling down.

The industry largely reverted to its pre-boom niche status regardless so what is the harm in now taking those big swings?

Tasked with schedule innovation, NASCAR Senior Vice President of Racing Development & Strategy Ben Kennedy is taking some really big swings. There is a dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway every spring. This season began with a short track exhibition event inside the Los Angeles Coliseum.

That's the second largest city in the country, by the way.

Circuit of the Americas, Nashville Superspeedway and Gateway have all been added to the schedule and now the Cup Series will race on a 2.2-mile, 12-turn street course in the heart of Downtown Chicago.

That's the third largest city in the country, by the way.

The layout is virtually identical to the circuit that was first put to the test during a televised iRacing event featuring real life NASCAR stars last summer and is best described as two Martinsville Speedways put together with right hand turns.

In an era where consumers are less likely than their predecessors to travel en masse to certain events, much less camp there for a week, this is certainly an attempt from NASCAR to take an event to the people … including those who aren’t currently fans.

So yes, NASCAR absolutely wants to reach a new audience with this event, not only in person with walk-up foot traffic but also with the buzz on television when people find out there will be a Cup Series race on a street circuit.

"We want to continue to celebrate the tradition and the legacy that a lot of our events have, whether it be the Daytona 500, the Coca-Cola 600, Bristol Night Race, Darlington on Labor Day weekend," Kennedy said. "Those are all iconic moments in our schedule.

"That said, where there's opportunities for us, L.A. Coliseum being Exhibit A of that, we're going to innovate and be bold.

"I think for us, take the Coliseum as an example, being able to do something like that in a downtown location that's fun, that's exciting, that's a little bit different, certainly we had a lot of our avid fans come out which is fantastic, we also had a lot of new fans come out as well."

It’s about the potential of creating new fans wherever you can find them as best explained by Bubba Wallace on Tuesday.

"You're going to get that next Bubba Wallace that's sitting in the stands like I was when I was nine years old to be like, 'hey, I want to do this one day' but I want to be better," Wallace said.

Kennedy and his team believes the course will provide action, as almost a cross between Martinsville, the LA Coliseum and something akin to the Charlotte ROVAL, when it debuts next summer.

"We've seen some decent racing this year on the road courses so far," Kennedy said. "I think the racing product itself will be very similar to it.

"With the kind of ride height that the NextGen cars have, then the look and style of them actually going around the streets with the relevance that our OE partners developed into them, I think they're going to look phenomenal on the streets here in Chicago, but they're going to put on a great race for our fans as well."

Ultimately, an industry that isn’t innovating or creating is stagnating and Kennedy doesn’t want that outcome for NASCAR, and it shows in many of his recent scheduling concepts.

"Frankly we'll probably also have a lot of new fans as well, folks that may not have been to a NASCAR race before and may want to come to watch racing, see the A list headliners that we're going to have on the stage, or just be able to experience it," Kennedy said.

"That's all part of our strategic rationale behind it. I think as we think longer term, certainly opens doors for us similar to the Coliseum, to new markets in the future as well. "