CHICAGO – It’s a first time for them to be racing where they are in the “Windy City,” but it’s certainly not the first time they’ve been here.
NASCAR’s return to the Chicago market for the first time in four years will be done in the city itself, as a Cup Series street course race will be staged on July 2, 2023. From Michigan Avenue to Lake Shore Drive, the competitors will take to the proposed 2.2 mile course in a historic sports moment in the city’s history.
But NASCAR has held a few events in the Chicagoland area starting in the 1950s, though it was a little more often over the past two decades when the sport grew more nationally.
Here are some of the highlights of NASCAR’s other visits to Chicago through the years.
Chicagoland Speedway – Joliet
Completed in 2001, no venue in the area has hosted more events for NASCAR than the 1 1/2 mile oval in Joliet.
From 2001-2019, a Cup and Xfinity series race was staged every year while also hosting a Truck series race from 2010-2019.
The main attraction was the arrival of an annual event for NASCAR’s top series, with the dates starting in July then switching to early September to be closer to the championship playoff in the early 2010s. In 2011, it was the first race of the “Chase for the Championship,” which was won by eventual Cup champion Tony Stewart.
He has the lead for Cup series wins at the venue with three, also winning in 2004 and 2007, while Kyle Busch has the overall lead with 11 victories (5 truck series, 4 Xfinity series, and 2 Cup series victories).
With events moved back to the summer in later years, Chicagoland Speedway was supposed to have a Cup race in the 2020 season in June, but when the pandemic-modified schedule was released, the venue was left off it.
There was no scheduled race in Joliet for the 2021 or 2022 season as the future of racing at the venue remains unknown.
Soldier Field – Chicago
When the stadium was still in its original formation where it sat over 100,000 people, Soldier Field hosted a few events for NASCAR on a track created around the playing field.
It hosted a Cup series race in 1956 in which competitors took to the half-mile track for a 200-lap race, which was won by driver Fireball Roberts.
NASCAR also staged three Convertible Series races at Soldier Field – two in 1956 with one in June and the other in September while 1957 featured another race in June.
Santa Fe Speedway – Willow Springs
One of the most well-known short tracks in the Chicago area was the Santa Fe Speedway, which was a favorite for racing enthusiasts for over 40 years.
Located at 91st and Wolf Road in Willow Springs, it was open from 1953-1995 and even had races broadcast from there by WGN-TV in the early days of the station.
The venue got the chance to host a Cup series race on July 10, 1954 with 200 laps being run on the half-mile dirt track oval. The race was won by Dick Rathman – one of his 13 wins in the Cup series during his well-round racing career.
Rathman also competed in Formula 1 and qualified for nine Indianapolis 500s, winning the pole position in 1958 while also finishing in the Top 10 of the race itself in 1956 and 1964,
Chicago Motor Speedway – Cicero
This venue was best known as Sportsman’s Park for horse racing for decades before it was converted into a racing facility in 1999.
It’s time was short in that capacity – just three years – but it did have a few NASCAR events in that time.
The Truck series had August races in 2000 (Won by Joe Ruttman) and 2001 (Won by Scott Riggs), with one Midwest series race in 2000, but events were quickly moved to Chicagoland Speedway when it opened.
The venue was demolished in 2009.