CHICAGO – A moment in history is ahead for the city in just under a year, should the plans presented on Tuesday afternoon hold over the next 11 months.
That’s on June 1st and 2nd of 2023, when an IMSA series and then a NASCAR Cup race will take to the streets of downtown Chicago for the first time.
It’s a return of the stock car series to the area for the first time since 2019 when Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet hosted its last weekend for the sport at their 1 1/2 mile oval.
But in many ways, this is the fulfillment of an idea that was drummed up four decades earlier by a former leader of the city to bring racing to the heart of the Chicago.
In 1980, then Mayor Jane Byrne struck a deal to have the CART open-wheel and Can-Am sportscar series stage a race downtown during July 4th weekend in 1981. This was a time when the IndyCars were at the top of the racing world, and 1979 Indianapolis 500 and CART champion Rick Mears was a part of news conference to announce the race on September 23, 1980.
The 2.7-mile course wasn’t terribly different than the one that will be used in 2023 as it included lengthy stretches on Lake Short Drive and Columbus Drive between Jackson Boulevard and McFetridge Drive.
Yet on November 6th of that year, the race was called off.
Per an article by UPI published that day, the announcement of the race brought heavy criticism from many in the city, including aldermen, who were concerned about how it would affect travel during a holiday weekend.
“The complexity of staging an international-level automobile race in conjunction with several established Fourth of July attractions would place a considerable strain on city resources,’ said Byrne to the UPI.
Just under 43 years later, Chicago will try again to put on a race downtown in a similar spot, using stock cars instead. Only time will prove if this venture will be successful this time.