CHICAGO — Stock cars will roll into town for NASCAR’s first-ever “street race” this summer. But before the drivers arrive, NASCAR engineers and technicians have been visiting the city to work with Chicago Public School students on a project designed to get them thinking about the science of the sport.

“This project was a partnership with NASCAR and the STEM department and the students were asked to build a helmet that was innovative and kept drivers safe,” said Ariana Schachne, the fifth-grade STEM teacher at Armour Elementary School in Bridgeport

CPS’s STEM and STEAM programs involve 22,000 students across 43 schools in the district. The students are now engaged in the civic conversation ahead of one of this summer’s biggest events: NASCAR’s first-ever street race

“We’re learning that a helmet should have proper edging where the bottom half doesn’t cover up the face,” said Daniel Baptiste, a 5th-grade STEM student. “You can see through it and it protects the head.”

An Arbor Elementary student crafts a design for a NASCAR helmet.

The project is a partnership between the Chicago Public Schools and NASCAR, which is providing funding, supplies and giving students access to professional NASCAR engineers.

The Chicago Street Race is scheduled for July 1 and 2, when stock cars will roar around Grant Park with the Chicago skyline as a backdrop. 

“We’re really excited,” said Julie Giese, president of the Chicago Street Race for NASCAR. “NASCAR is bringing our very first street race to downtown Chicago.”

Giese said NASCAR is donating the resources to CPS to promote science and technology — and to teach students that those careers (engineers, mechanics, fabricators, and graphic designers) all play key roles in NASCAR.

Julie Griese, President of NASCAR’s Chicago Street Race.

“It’s all about teaching kids about problem-solving and educating them about NASCAR,” Giese said. “What do – taking what we’re going to be doing July 1 and 2 and making it relevant to those school children.”

The students had clear directions: build a “prototype helmet” that is safe, functional, comfortable, and cool using construction paper, plastics and their imaginations.  

“Soo with paper, pencils and staplers, they could explore the wider range of innovation than they could if they were limited by the materials being too technical,” Kate Klein, the manager of STEM support and implementation for CPS

“What I like about science is like all the fun stuff you will learn,” said Kevin Nagera, an 11-year-old CPS fifth-grader.  

On May 2, NASCAR is renting the Field Museum as a space for “STEAM Fest” a competition for the top 500 CPS students to compete on the best NASCAR helmet design.