NASCAR returns, but still doesn’t give the city it deserves

Downtown will host NASCAR racing next month for a second straight year, as evidenced by the street closures that began Monday to make ready for the event.

As was the case with last summer’s spectacle, this editorial board is not convinced that hosting the races translated into a true financial victory for Chicago and its taxpayers.

Behind the boosterish and hard-to-verify claims that the races contributed $100 million to the region’s economy is the hard math that Chicago shelled out $3.5 million to stage last July’s races, only to pocket a paltry $620,000 in direct cash to the municipality’s coffers in return.

Last year’s race was negatively impacted by big rains, and storm-related darkness, which cut crowds and revenue, but even in perfect weather the city was getting the short end of the financial stick.

To his credit, Mayor Brandon Johnson, who inherited the NASCAR deal from his predecessor, was able to get the pot sweetened a little better this year with a pledge from the race organization to kick in $2 million for the July 6-7 event.



An improvement for sure, but not enough for granting NASCAR the privilege of squatting on two miles of downtown streets — during peak summer season, right on the lakefront and Chicago’s signature Grant Park no less — while earning boatloads of money from sponsorships and television revenue.

Meanwhile, Ida B. Wells Drive will be closed between Michigan Avenue and Columbus Drive until July 18 or so, the city said Monday. Then on June 27, Jackson Drive will be shut down from Michigan Avenue to Columbus Drive.

The city also said the course’s set-up and breakdown time this year will be cut from 25 days in 2023 to 19 days, which is good news for those who will be coming downtown for non-NASCAR reasons.

But when all is said and done, we think the downtown races are not worth the inconvenience to Chicagoans.

And while the skyline providing a stunning backdrop for the record NASCAR television and streaming audiences who saw the races, down here on the ground, the event threatens to cheapen the image of historic Grant Park and the lakefront.

But if the city must play host to the races — and the NASCAR deal gets extended beyond its third and final year in 2025 — what Chicago earns should be commensurate to the benefits the prime location offers.

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