Columbia watch party for Grant Park 220 draws curious students, fans to campus

By Connor Dore, Staff Reporter

Meredith and Emory Sutton both watch the NASCAR Chicago Street Race in downtown Chicago on Sunday, July 2, 2023. Columbia hosted an Exclusive Viewing Party at 618 S. Michigan Avenue. (Kaelah Serrano)

Students, staff and faculty from Columbia who won a lottery spot at a private NASCAR viewing party at the 618 S. Michigan Ave. building on Sunday, July 2, saw the Grant Park 220 race go right by as the cars turned onto Michigan Avenue from Balbo Drive and from there onto E. Congress Plaza Drive.

The college closed all campus buildings over the weekend for the inaugural NASCAR race weekend in the city with the exception of the 618 S. Michigan building and the 33 E. Ida B. Wells building where the Columbia Chronicle and WCRX-FM are located. The 600 S. Michigan building was also open for limited press access.

The second day of the race weekend started with light to heavy rain for the continuation of the NASCAR Xfinity Series Loop 121 race, after it was stopped on Saturday because of bad weather. The weather continued to delay the race, however, and NASCAR declared Cole Custer, the top driver from the partial race that took place the day prior, the winner of race on Sunday.

The main afternoon race on Sunday, the Cup Series Grant Park 220, was delayed over an hour.

In spite of the dreary day, which included multiple flash flood warnings, onlookers at the 4 p.m. watch party came to campus confident they would see cars race.

“The reason they canceled yesterday’s race is because there was lightning. There’s not expected to be lightning, just precipitation,” said David Henry, an acting major. “If all goes well they should be able to continue if it keeps raining.”

The race was a 2.14-mile asphalt street circuit through cut through the South Loop, covering parts of DuSable Lake Shore Drive, Michigan Avenue and Columbia Avenue around Grant Park.

“It’s coming right through the campus.” said Terry Miller, a professor of directing and cinema. “That’s primarily why I’m here just to see that, because that doesn’t happen often.”

Tim Davis, a senior majoring in TV and communication, said he’d never seen a NASCAR race before. “The closest thing I’ve known about NASCAR is watching Cars a lot of time growing up” Davis said, referring to the 2006 Disney animated film. “That’s as close as I got.”

Beth Hollatz, a junior game art major, who came from Wisconsin to watch the race, said she has seen a few NASCAR races on TV while visiting family. To prep for the race on Sunday, she watched Cars, which follow hotshot rookie Lightening McQueen who gets stranded in a Route 66 town on the way to the biggest race of his life.

Hollatz said she dressed specifically for the viewing party, noting that her outfit gave off “Hot Wheels vibes.”

“I saw on Twitter or something that they won’t race if there is standing water, but I think if they keep getting rid of the water, we’ll probably have a race,” she said.

Just after 5 p.m. the drivers were called back to the course to prepare for the Grant Park 220. The 30 or so people at the party crowded to the windows to get a view of the race.

The race was shortened from 100 laps to 75 because of sunset, with driver Shane van Gisbergen taking the win after three hours of racing.

Kori Lindsay, an arts management graduate student, said she wasn’t really a NASCAR fan but liked the idea of a race in the city. “It’s definitely a unique experience.”

“I think it could be a fun thing to do if the weather were nicer,” Lindsay said. “I wouldn’t mind coming again.”