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Lucky members of Columbia community watch NASCAR Chicago Street Race from campus building on South Michigan Avenue

Columbia hosted 40 raffle winners and their guests to see the Grant Park 165 on Sunday, July 7. The red flag came out after Lap 26 because of rain.
Mario Jimenez
Columbia students, staff, faculty and their guests watch the Grant Park 165 NASCAR Cup Series race from the 618 S. Michigan Ave. building on Sunday, July 7, 2024. Some viewed the race from the windows, and others followed on a TV set up on the 3rd floor.

About 40 Columbia students, staff, faculty and their guests got to see the Grant Park 165 NASCAR Cup Series race on Sunday, July 7 with views from the second and third floors of the historic 10-story 618 S. Michigan Ave. building, which houses event space, galleries and classrooms.


The people at the viewing party sat on benches by the windows on the third floor. Some brought headphones to muffle the loud noises from the racing cars. Spectators who wanted a more comfortable seat sat on the couches around a television screen that was broadcasting the race.


The windows in the 618 building overlooked Turns 7 through 9, with a partially obstructed view of Turn 9. 


Columbia raffled off the viewing spots for the weekend’s big race, which was paused for rain, with the red flag coming out at Lap 26 at about 5:30 p.m. Defending champion Shane van Gisbergen crashed in Lap 25 after Chase Briscoe lost control and clipped his car. SVG, as he is known, had to pull out of the race.


The 618 building opened at 3 p.m. to get ready for the race, which had been scheduled to start at 3:30 p.m. It was delayed for a half hour because of rain, and the track was slippery, with puddles in some places. The drivers got in about a third of the 75-lap course after an hour and a half of racing.


The view from the second and third floors panned Michigan Avenue, allowing for guests to see the stock cars pass in front of them coming up from East Balbo Drive and turning onto East Congress Plaza Drive.

Winners of a Columbia-sponsored raffle and their guests watch the Grant Park 165 NASCAR Cup Series race from the 3rd floor of the 618 S. Michigan building on Sunday, July 7, 2024. (Mario Jimenez)

Jake Bartecki, a broadcast sports reporter for News Channel Nebraska, went to the watch party as a guest of his mom, Holly Bartecki, a part-time instructor in public relations.  


“You’ve got drivers coming off one of the fastest parts of the race track, going to one of the fastest parts of the race track,” Jake said. “I think you get to see more of the race track and more of the action.”  


Billy Fidanovski, a resident of Boystown and customer success manager at Getty Images, was the guest of Mark Hawk, a senior photo major who won a raffle spot. Fidanovski saw the race last year near the track. “I get to watch it from a better angle than being on the track and be inside, so if it does rain, I don’t have to worry about that,” Fidanovski said. 


It rained briefly during the race, but watch party guests did not have to worry about getting soaked. 


Holly Bartecki attended last year’s race. “We were up to our ankles in mud, pouring rain, freezing cold, blistering hot – everything all at once, and I was like ‘never again,’” she said.


The inaugural race weekend was disrupted by rain and bad weather both days, including the second day and the marquee Cup Series race.


When Holly Bartecki saw the raffle, she decided she would try for another experience. 


This was the second year that the college hosted a watch party for NASCAR.


“Maybe let’s see if we can get the fourth floor next year,” Fidanovski said.


During the race, he followed the cars speeding by, head turning from right to left, and making conversation with Hawk, with some intermittent, groovy dance breaks when the music from outside was loud enough to hear. 


The possibility of this party also provoked interest in Columbia providing student access to buildings during other events. 


“They should do it for more,” Hawk said. “For anything that goes on around here… There’s always students going to Lollapalooza and stuff, might as well have a safe place for them.” 


He added: “Especially with losing buildings too and selling off buildings, it’s just putting more value into them.” 


Even with some critiques, those at the watch party were ecstatic that the school had something like this to offer.


Yolanda Joe attended the watch party as a guest of a faculty friend. Joe left her position at Columbia as a faculty member in broadcast journalism in 2019 to be the press secretary for the city’s treasurer. She was most recently the communications director for the Illinois lieutenant governor but now is retired and has returned to creative writing.


“I thought it was great that Columbia capitalized on making it available to staff and faculty, and friends of staff and faculty, because it’s just a good way to say thank you and let them be part of a great event that is in Chicago,” she said.


Copy edited by Trinity Balboa

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