NASCAR to run iRacing event on Chicago street course; could lead to actual race UPDATES

UPDATE 6-3-2021:  Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reports that NASCAR is continuing to have discussions about adding a street course race to the schedule.

The timeline is not known and Chicago or Los Angeles could be the ultimate choice.


UPDATE 4-27-2021: NASCAR is exploring running a street race in Chicago in the coming years, sources say, confirming that an upcoming iRacing test in virtual Chicago is a dry run for an eventual real-life version. The sanctioning body is in the midst of planning out its schedule for next season as it continues to re-imagine the types of tracks it races at, having added a dirt race in Bristol and several new road courses to the schedule this year. NASCAR on June 2 will hold a virtual iRacing events on the streets of Chicago as part of the Pro Invitational Series aired by Fox and NBC. While there was a clear implication that NASCAR could be testing something, and NASCAR execs have in the past acknowledged that they could eventually try out a street circuit, officials stopped short of confirming that they were actively working on a real-life street circuit. However, sources have confirmed to SBJ that this is the case, with NASCAR having been out in the market in recent months talking to potential race promoters about taking on the project. NASCAR could run the event as soon as ’22, but is still in the early to middle stages of putting the project together and it’s possible the project could get delayed. Sources say it’s also possible NASCAR could choose to promote the event itself. NASCAR declined to comment.

ORIGINAL POST 3-24-2021: The 2022 NASCAR schedule has yet to be released, but the pending appearance of a Chicago street circuit for the iRacing platform — developed in conjunction with NASCAR officials — begs the question whether virtual reality might one day become reality.

After all, this year’s schedule pushed the boundaries of the conventional NASCAR calendar, with a boom in new road courses and the Cup Series’ approaching return to dirt-track racing set for Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway. Oval tracks remain the meat and potatoes of the schedule, but is racing on temporary street circuits the next part of the meal?

“It’s a great question, and as we look at future schedules, certainly have everything on the table,” says Ben Kennedy, NASCAR’s vice president, strategic initiatives. “I think you look at 2021, we’ve talked about it a lot. It’s the most bold and dynamic schedule we’ve seen in over 50 years, and a testament to the industry for being able to pull that off and come together. A lot of exciting things in ’21. I think as we look toward 2022, really our goals and expectations are the same.

“We want to continue to innovate, we want to continue to protect those prestigious events like the Daytona 500 and the Coke 600, but also be able to go to new markets and shake things up. So I think a really unique opportunity to work with iRacing on this, to be able to test something out.”

iRacing announced Wednesday that the streets of the downtown Chicago Loop will be the setting for one of the computer racing simulation’s newest tracks. The layout is scheduled for release later this spring, and NASCAR officials have set a June 2 date there for the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series.

AND: NASCAR and iRacing will unveil a Chicago street course that runs through Grant Park and just north of Soldier Field for the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series race on June 2 on FS1. The course will run on some of Chicago’s most famous streets, including Lake Shore Drive, Michigan Avenue and Columbus Avenue.

The addition of the Chicago street course to iRacing leads to the next question: Is this in preparation for a street course on the actual NASCAR Cup Series schedule?

“The impetus right now is solely that virtual event and bringing that to life on June 2,” said NASCAR Vice President Ben Kennedy, who handles NASCAR’s scheduling initiatives. “That’s been our focus in the near-term.

“If there is an opportunity to explore different types of venues or new markets in the future, I think there are certainly a ton of options out there, whether it’s Chicago or other markets.”

NASCAR is working with The Specialized Marketing Group Inc. in Chicago on its potential street race, and TSMGI helped with the development of this course. They worked with the city to momentarily shut down streets on the circuit last fall to allow for a moving scanning truck that collected data for iRacing, which NASCAR has used to create prototypes of tracks to determine what works best.

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