When one thinks of a street course, they generally do not associate it with the NASCAR Cup Series. That is set to change in June… well, virtually. On Wednesday, NASCAR and iRacing announced they have joined forces with the City of Chicago and the Chicago Sports Commission to develop a street circuit in the city that will serve as the fifth race of the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series on 2 June.
“On behalf of the City of Chicago, I am thrilled to work with NASCAR and iRacing to showcase our great city to NASCAR fans who will be watching this cutting-edge event from around the country,” Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot stated. “Through this exciting and innovative exhibition, fans will be able to see and experience Chicago’s iconic downtown in a way that has never been done before. I am excited to partner with NASCAR and iRacing to produce this event and look forward to providing a new, uniquely Chicago experience to those near and far.”
The 2.19-mile (3.52 km), twelve-turn course will go past Buckingham Fountain and around Hutchinson Field. Lake Shore Drive and the Art Institute of Chicago are among the landmarks in the second half of the track. As part of the track creation, the city briefly closed down targeted streets in the fall to begin the scanning process.
The Chicago area is no stranger to NASCAR racing. Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet welcomed the three national series from 2001 to 2019, while the Camping World Truck Series also competed at Chicago Motor Speedway in Cicero in 2000 and 2001. In 1956, the Cup Series raced at Soldier Field, a football stadium that serves as the home of the National Football League’s Chicago Bears.
Chicago street courses were also featured in EA Sports’ NASCAR video games from NASCAR 07 to NASCAR 09 under the Walmart Raceway and Chicago Pier Speedway names.
“Today’s announcement marks a huge milestone for Chicago and the Chicago Sports Commission,” said Chicago Sports Commission executive director Kara Bachman commented. “CSC and its partners, such as TSMGI who has been integral in securing this event, have long awaited the opportunity to collaborate with NASCAR. The iRacing Pro Invitational Series is the perfect virtual launching pad and a testament to NASCAR’s innovation.”
Street circuits are usually not featured in NASCAR’s national series due to variables like contracts with existing tracks and the notion that stock cars cannot maneuvre around them. The Xfinity Series formerly raced at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Canada, which is a hybrid street circuit and permanent course. Temporary street tracks were used by the Cup Series in its early years such as Titus-Cocoaville Speedway, an airfield circuit at what is now Space Coast Regional Airport in 1957, and Exhibition Place, which currently hosts Honda Indy Toronto, in 1958.
Various lower series have also competed on street tracks. Perhaps the most notable example today is the Pinty’s Series in Canada, which regularly holds two races on such tracks every year.
Does the Chicago track mean fans can expect street courses to be on the real-life NASCAR schedule in the future? In February 2020, the Sports Business Journal reported NASCAR was having dialogues with Soldier Field and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum about potential street races around the stadiums. While little update has come out since, it is possible that conducting an iRacing event on one is a positive sign.
The Pro Invitational Series, created last spring in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, will kick off its second season on Wednesday night.
“The success of our eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series was underscored by an industry-wide effort to entertain fans during the early months of the global pandemic,” NASCAR senior vice president and chief digital officer Tim Clark commented. “This year, the Pro Invitational will return with a schedule of midweek races that will bridge the gap between our real-world races each weekend.”