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Add Chicago streets to NASCAR’s list of odd race places

Team owner Roger Penske wins the NASCAR Cup Series championship and IndyCar Series title in the same season with Will Power and Joey Logano. He also says a prayer for Joe Gibbs and his whole family for the loss of Coy.

NASCAR will make more than a splash of history next summer when its race cars compete on a 2.2-mile road course carved from the streets of Chicago, one of the nation’s biggest cities.

It might be spectacular. It might not. But it certainly will be odd.

Although other series have raced in downtown locations, the July 1-2 weekend will mark an extreme departure from the norm for NASCAR. Already, more than six months before loud race cars take to the streets of Chicago, the very fact that the race will happen apparently has sparked interest in NASCAR involvement by other large cities. Rumors include New York City where, perhaps, Manhattan’s quite talented taxi drivers could participate in a preliminary event.

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As strange and different as the Chicago Street Race will be, it won’t mark the first time NASCAR has sent its drivers into the stark unknown.

Consider these other peculiar racing spots:

Soldier Field, Chicago -- Yes, NASCAR has a past in the Windy City. In 1956, a Cup race was held on a half-mile (more or less) paved oval inside the home of the Chicago Bears. Fireball Roberts won.

Kitsap County Airport, Bremerton, Wash. – In 1957, Parnelli Jones won in a Cup car on a .9-mile road course on the grounds of the airport. Only 14 cars were entered. The Northwest market is one craved by NASCAR today.

McCormick Field, Asheville, N.C. – NASCAR fashioned a quarter-mile track inside Asheville’s baseball field, and Jim Paschal took the checkered flag in the 1958 race. Nobody went out of the park.

Daytona beach road course, Daytona Beach, Fla. – Without question the oddest (and one of the most famous) race course in NASCAR history, the beach road course tested drivers on a track that was one-half ocean sand and one-half two-lane highway asphalt. Legends were made there as drivers dug through the sand of the two turns and tried to avoid other cars, seagulls and the incoming tide.

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Augusta International Raceway, Augusta, Ga. – They play a big golf tournament there, don’t they? Turns out they also raced in Augusta – on a 3-mile road course in 1963. Fireball Roberts won the race, which was called at 139 laps (of a scheduled 170) because of impending darkness.

Linden Airport, Linden, N.J. – Temporary tracks made by connecting portions of airport runways were somewhat popular in the 1950s. Al Keller (speaking of odd, he drove a Jaguar!) won in 1954 on the 2-mile course at Linden.