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Columbia students launch print publication, family-friendly activities within the ‘NASCAR Tracks’ app for this year’s Chicago street race

Addison Annis
A road closure street sign sits on the sidewalk along East Ida B. Wells Drive in the South Loop in Chicago on Monday, July 1, 2024. The sign marks the closure of East Ida B. Wells Drive and East Congress Plaza Drive, due to the NASCAR street race event taking place July 6 and 7.

For a second year in a row, the NASCAR Chicago Street Race will take place in the South Loop, with much of the race happening in and around Columbia’s urban campus on Saturday, July 6 and Sunday, July 7.

The course map details street closures around East Jackson Drive, DuSable Lake Shore Drive, South Columbus Drive and East Balbo Drive. Columbia’s buildings in the 600 block of Michigan Avenue are located between turns 7 and 8.

The college is offering two viewing spaces for the Sunday race to a limited number of students and employees selected by lottery. Each person whose name is drawn is eligible to bring one guest. The college said in an email that names will be drawn on Tuesday, July 2.

The viewing spaces will be on the second and third floors of the 618 S. Michigan building, fronting Michigan Avenue. The race cars will go right by the building as they come up Michigan Avenue from Balbo and turn onto East Congress Plaza Drive.

More than 50,000 people are expected to attend the two-day festival. This year’s musical headliners include Keith Urban, The Chainsmokers, The Black Keys and Lauren Alaina.

Columbia students created a print publication and two games on the NASCAR Tracks app for those attending the races. The project consisted of 18 students from the “Studio Collaboration” course and the “IAM Team” capstone.

Jo-Nell Sieren, assistant professor of UX and Interaction Design for the Interactive Arts and Media program, coached the students through the 15-week process of creating the activities starting in January, when the students first met with NASCAR. They learned how they can fulfill the need of family-friendly activities that can be used during “downtime” before and in between the races, which became their mission for the remainder of the semester. Sieren oversaw and guided the processes of designing, researching, prototyping and developing the final products.

“We ran much like a real design studio,” she said. “An important thing to note, and what I feel makes our curriculum in UX stand out, is our emphasis on learning to work in a team.”

Collaboration was a key quality in the team’s process as members of the UX program traded off the “team leader” role in two-week-shifts, giving everyone the opportunity to experience the role, said Areanna Whittington.

The senior UX designer and web application development major specialized in the trivia game portion in the NASCAR Tracks app. Her time as a leader of the team involved keeping track of what needed to be done, communicating with the leaders of the other areas of the project and assigning the tasks based on the other members’ strengths.

“It was kind of crazy but it was also fun,” Whittington said. “I think it made us realize how we communicate with a team, especially that big of a team, and also collaborating with a client too, which was interesting.”

Taiwo Ayedun, senior UX designer and user experience and interaction design major, also learned from the “interesting but rewarding” experience of working with the array of ideas from the large group of students when it came to processes of research, ideation, design and implementation.

“We all had different communication styles, majors and ways of approaching things,” she said. “I gained some insight into how programmers do their job or might even approach something differently than a UI/UX designer would.”

According to Whittington, NASCAR noticed a younger demographic from last year’s race, contrary to their usual audience of ages 40-60. This gave the students an opportunity to connect with younger audiences by tailoring their creations to different age groups; however, it can be enjoyed by all.

This was a primary goal for the team when starting out. The team started by doing research and surveying NASCAR’s demographic, inspiring their goal of age inclusivity, said Ayedun.

“When we were given the scope of this project, one of the main objectives was to create something that was informative for existing NASCAR fans, kids and family and people who have probably never been to a NASCAR race before,” Ayedun said. “Collectively, as a team, we came up with the idea after doing initial research and conducting surveys on various people who have or haven’t attended a NASCAR race.”

According to Sieren, the team met with NASCAR five times throughout the spring semester to report their progress, along with a final presentation before its publishing.

“The significance is truly in the quality of the work,” Sieren said. “The products are polished, detailed and professional, and a team of Columbia College Chicago students created it! I’m incredibly proud of the work and dedication the team put into this project.”

The race weekend last year generated $8.3 million in local and state taxes, according to an analysis from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. The race drew an estimated 47,405 unique attendees, with 52% traveling to Chicago solely or primarily for the event.

The two main races will take place on both Saturday and Sunday.

  • Qualifying races begin Saturday at 9 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.
  • The Loop 110 NASCAR Xfinity Series starts at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
  • The Grant Park 165 NASCAR Cup Series starts at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday.
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About the Contributors
Sofía Oyarzún
Sofía Oyarzún, Bilingual Reporter
soyarzun@columbichronicle.com   Sofia Oyarzún is a sophomore photojournalism and journalism double major. Oyarzún joined the Chronicle in January 2024.   Hometown: Glenview, Illinois
Addison Annis
Addison Annis, Director of Photography
aannis@columbiachronicle.com   Addison Annis is a junior photojournalism major, minoring in video production. She has covered politics, cultural events and Chicago protests. Annis joined the Chronicle in August 2022.   Hometown: Plymouth, Minn.