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The Columbia Chronicle

We've got you covered

The Columbia Chronicle

We've got you covered

The Columbia Chronicle

South Loop set to reopen fully this week after NASCAR historical street races

Trucks and fork lifts haul away what once was set up for NASCAR’s first ever street race in Chicago on S. Columbus Drive on Monday, July 10, 2023. The event hosted quite the set up, including a ferris wheel, grandstand seating for ticket holders and strong barriers around the track. Addison Annis

All of the South Loop streets around Columbia that were closed for the city’s NASCAR race will be open again by Saturday, marking the official end to an event that attracted thousands ahead of the Fourth of July, despite poor weather conditions.

Columbia also closed most of its buildings for the race weekend on July 1 and July 2, but they re-opened on July 5, after the holiday. A viewing party on campus attracted several dozen fans and students who were curious about what it would be like to watch cars speed through the downtown streets that surround Columbia’s campus.

This week, northbound Columbus Drive will reopen between Balbo Drive and Jackson Boulevard. Balbo Drive will reopen between Columbus Drive and DuSable Lake Shore Drive.

The last of the parking restrictions also will be lifted.

Although the city signed a three-year deal for the street race, the first in NASCAR’s 75-year history, Mayor Brandon Johnson has the option to an “opt-out” of the contract.

“Like everything else I inherited, I’m a teacher, so I will assess it and grade it and it will be an open process, where other folks get a chance to weigh in,” Johnson told reporters on July 5.

Both races scheduled for the inaugural weekend, the Xfinity Series Loop 121 and the main Grant Park 220, were impacted by heavy rains.

The originally 100-lap Grant Park 220 on Sunday, which was delayed by rain and flash flood warnings, was shortened so that racers would not be driving in the dark after sunset. Shane Van Gisbergen of New Zealand won after 78 laps, his first time racing with NASCAR.

Though the weather was less than ideal, fans were “powering through,” said Shawn Holt, newly hired president and chief operating officer for Enhance Health, which sponsored Van Ginsbergen.

“Once the race got going, there were a lot of people in the stands. It’s kind of exciting to see how many people waited around to see the race,” Holt told the Chronicle.

Senior DePaul marketing student and race fan Kacper Sobotka said he was happy to see “community engagement with a sport that people don’t normally tie in with community engagement.”

Sobotka said the races introduced NASCAR to people who have never had first-hand experience with it.

“Everybody that went was hooked. A lot of my friends who don’t watch the sport were hooked after it,” Sobotka said.

Holt, who has been attending NASCAR races for over two decades, said he was surprised to see so many locals attending a race for the first time.

“The Chicago street race was absolutely amazing. There was so much energy. The fans loved it,” he said.

Max Hatlem, a junior audio arts and acoustics major at Columbia who covered the race for WCRX FM, the campus radio station, said it was good the course was set in a less residential area.

“But obviously it’s downtown Chicago, and people are trying to go about their normal business and everything,” Hatlem said, noting the frustration some residents and commuters expressed about the street closures and other disruptions.

In a post-race press conference, Ben Kennedy, NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing development and racing strategy, said the collaboration with the city was “really good.”

“Certainly this is brand new to us. This is the first time we’ve done something like this. Naturally we’ll have a lot of learnings out of this as we think about the future,” Kennedy said.

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