With NASCAR nearing a unique endeavor as the league hopes to expand its audience, the President of the upcoming Chicago Street Race offered some insight on why Grant Park and a robust skyline will serve as the backdrop for NASCAR's first race on an urban course.
Just months away from a first-of-a-kind race downtown, NASCAR's Chicago Street Race President Julie Giese sat down with NBC 5's Leila Rahimi in discussing the unique event.
In using the streets of downtown Chicago for a motorsport usually reserved for large stadiums surrounded by monstrous parking lots miles away from a city skyline, Giese has noted the design has been "very different" from the fixed facilities that are typically used.
While Giese said that the ability to "move things around" helps create flexibility in the course's design, the nature of the race has restricted the planning to paper.
"We're planning everything on paper because, again, you don't have the opportunity to go test something out, and a lot of it is being done virtually via modeling," Giese said.
Although a significant challenge for NASCAR, Giese added that it's also a prime opportunity to "reinvent the race experience."
Giese also touched on perhaps the race's most notable participant, seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson.
"He loves the experience, the atmosphere that goes along with that and the fact that it's in in downtown Chicago," Giese said.
Rahimi then asked Giese about the differences drivers may experience when compared to the course in Joliet that is typically visited on a trip to the Chicago area.
"I will say, our drivers over the years have become incredibly good at road course racing. We have a number of them on our schedule already, and I would expect them to hit the ground running when they get here," Giese told NBC 5.
While the street race will be uncharted territory for those participating, drivers have resources to extensively prepare thanks to virtual simulations and other technological aid.
"To your point, we don't have anything that we can show other than this beautiful park. So we've really leveraged the power of technology to create that and share what that will be," Giese said.
"But then I think that's where somebody like Jimmie Johnson, who can lend his voice to what that means and what that experience is like, will be really beneficial for us," she added.
Rahimi then asked Giese what led to Chicago being chosen for the street race, with the street course president offering a plethora of reasons.
While bringing up Chicago's status as a top-three market for NASCAR and already comparatively strong engagement, Giese added that the big-city environment leads to a larger exposure of the motorsport to audiences who may not have been in proximity to NASCAR before.
"More importantly, racing in downtown Chicago gives us the opportunity to introduce NASCAR to a whole new audience and to teach them about what we do and why we do it," Giese said.
"We did an event at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum this past weekend and last year for the very first time in 70% of the attendees were attending their very first NASCAR race," the Street Course President told NBC 5.
With NASCAR's events slated for July 1 and July 2, residents have previously expressed concerns over access to downtown parks for Independence Day events, with Giese acknowledging the importance of access to the parks and pledging that the areas will be clear in time.
"That's something we're working on right now, we're working very closely with the Park District to make sure that that window is as tight as possible," Giese said.
Giese was also asked about potential damage to the city's streets, due to the car's high speeds and ever-present risk of collisions, telling Rahimi that major damage is not anticipated.
"We've committed already that we will take care of that. We're going to leave, whether it's the park or the streets, in as good a condition, if not better, honestly, than when we got there," Giese said.
In addition to concerns over potential damages, the traffic impact in the days leading up to, including and after the event was also mentioned by Rahimi, with closures expected to affect DuSable Lake Shore Drive, Columbus Drive and Congress Plaza Drive.
"There will be a period of time where we will have to enclose the footprint. We're anticipating that to be around June 28 or June 29, and then leading in to race weekend, and then working really hard to get that reopened as quickly as possible," Giese told NBC 5.
While the event is expected to be a unique and highly-anticipated experience for Chicago's residents, Giese told NBC 5 that NASCAR expects up to 65 percent of the race's attendees to be from out of town.
Giese added that NASCAR is hoping for a total attendance of 100,000 across the two-day event.
"To be able to have our 75th anniversary and run the very first street race in our sport's history here in the city of Chicago, it's pretty special," Giese said.