With Chicago hosting the first street race in NASCAR Cup Series history, some have scoffed at the idea all together.
After all, there’s a beautiful proper road course two hours north at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, and Daytona International Speedway had been the site of Fourth of July fireworks for over 50 years. So, does NASCAR really need to be pulling the IndyCar and Formula 1 card and turning an urban metropolis into a road course for the weekend?
This week Garrett Cook and Vito Pugliese present differing perspectives in 2-Headed Monster.
Fly the W for The Windy City Street Race
If there’s one thing I can’t stand with NASCAR, it’s change.
Yup, I said it.
Total boomer mindset here when it comes to my racing series. I want July 4 to be at Daytona, the green flag falling no later than 11 a.m. I want a season-long championship decided over 36 weeks, not a weekend. I want 900hp barreling into turn 1 at Michigan International Speedway at 210 mph, and Bristol Motor Speedway damn well better not have so much as a grain of sand on it the next spring race in Thunder Valley.
With that said, I also want us to attract new fans, test new markets, and not continue to do the same things over and over if they’ve been proven to be unsuccessful.
Part of that is competing in big markets, and bringing something new to the table that hasn’t been done before. Chicagoland Speedway is no longer on the schedule, as it was determined it served more usefulness as a warehouse than a venue to service the largest market in the Midwest.
If you’ve ever been there, the only thing really Chicago-y about it is The Blues Brothers Dodge Monaco cop car, perched upon a post at the McDonald’s across the from the track. Having a track in the middle of the city is something they only seem to do in IndyCar and Formula 1.
Formula 1 … you know, that imported series that Instagram personality Dale Tanhardt deems “Netflix Racing” in his reels? Absent a show similar to “Drive to Survive” (that’s not on USA at a terrible time), why not provide them the real thing in a live environment?
One of the common misconceptions of NASCAR with new fans is always, “All they do is turn left.”
Fair enough – nobody ever mentions that’s so you can see the whole track from your seat, rather than whatever corner of a road course you’re in, then wait a full minute until you see anything again – but now road courses make up 20% of the schedule. Moreover, running something that is usually the domain of another series in a stock car has also proven hugely popular. If you followed anything on social media regarding the 24 Hours of LeMans, the biggest story this year wasn’t Ferrari breaking Toyota’s win streak keeping their own record intact, or Corvette winning another class victory.
It was the Hendrick Motorsports Garage 56 Camaro keeping everyone up all night as it thundered by every four minutes – the fan favorite of the event driving up to 23rd overall before it was sidelined for a bit to replace a transmission. If you’ve scrolled through Instagram, you’ve no doubt shared countless videos of it overtaking class leading cars with the Freebird solo barely audible over the engine racket.
This weekend is also a proof of concept that can be expanded to other locations in the country. Much like racetracks that also host football games and concerts, people don’t just invest the time and money to go to a game or a race anymore, they show up for the event itself. The Formula 1 street race in Miami this year was evidence of that. Absolutely unwatchable racing with an awkward and cringe inducing pre-race … but people just want to be a part of the spectacle, sights and sounds of something new and exciting.
That’s not to say everything NASCAR tries works – nor do they marry themselves to it. We’re already seeing that with rumors of the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL going back to an oval in the fall, Indianapolis Motor Speedway ditching their infield road course for the full oval again, and Bristol (mercifully) ditching dirt and going back to concrete in the spring.
As far as NASCAR really needing a street race, I don’t know that it “needs” anything besides Daytona and Talladega, but it’s something I’m willing to give a shot. If it doesn’t work, we have two immediate substitutes that we know can and do work over the July 4 weekend, and some other new potential venues to explore like a return to Montreal or even Mexico City coupled with some schedule juggling.
And if it sucks, I’ll be the first one to say, “I told you so”…. – Vito Pugliese
Pump the Brakes on Street Circuits and Stock Cars
So, I just want to start by saying that the Chicago Street Course is a pretty good idea.
I don’t think it’s a great idea, but I get what NASCAR is trying to accomplish by scheduling this event. There will be more mainstream exposure, and there will be new eyes on our sport this weekend. But is it something that NASCAR needs on its schedule?
In my humble opinion, no.
Street courses, in my mind, are more closely associated with IndyCar and Formula 1. I get that the rising popularity of Formula 1 in America is something that NASCAR no doubt has their sights set on, but I think they’re missing what’s caused this rise in popularity for those guys.
Street courses are not the answer. Street course races in F1 are mostly boring affairs where Max Verstappen wins the pole and leads wire to wire to win. If it’s not Verstappen, it’s his teammate Sergio Perez.
They’re doing it in precision vehicles that at least have DRS and overtaking capabilities. The Next Gen Cup car after two full seasons absolutely has none of that going for it when it comes to road courses and short tracks.
It’s not a precise instrument of speed with any sort of technical marvel to make overtaking easier. As I’ve discussed here on 2-Headed Monster before, the Next Gen car is not very good on road courses or short tracks. Passing is very, very hard to do, especially in close quarters like these drivers will be in on Sunday (July 2).
I expect the fastest car to win the race and lead the most laps, and that is not the show pony that NASCAR is hoping for.
At least the closed road courses like Watkins Glen International, Sonoma Raceway and Circuit of the Americas are designed for racing and have passing zones that have been designed for entertainment. This course that winds through Grant Park is confusing at best – confined at worst.
There is also the matter of the schedule itself being absolutely loaded with road courses. I think the amount of those on the schedule is just fine; I love to see athletes in all sports take on challenges that throw them headfirst out of their comfort zone.
The street course is certainly a unique challenge, but I think about 10 laps into this event, the drivers will be able to drive the place in their sleep. Passing will be at a minimum, just like it was at Sonoma, which many have said was a boring event.
There is some historical context to support this. In 1986, the Winston West Series tested out street racing on the streets of Tacoma, Washington for the very first time.
Hershel McGriff beat Derrike Cope by seven seconds. There were only four cars that led the race at different points. They tried it again in 1987, this time in both Tacoma and Spokane. Chad Little won in Tacoma and Canadian Roy Smith won at Spokane. The final street course race in NASCAR history up until this season was at Spokane, again won by Roy Smith.
In researching those races, I noticed a trend. Little, Smith, Cope, McGriff and Ruben Garcia were really the only contenders for the wins on those courses, as they led the majority of the laps during these events according to Racing Reference. Doesn’t sound like much of a show, does it?
Sure, the aesthetics of Mount Rainier in the background while Chad Little’s mullet flowed in the wind must’ve been pretty cool.
“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
It’s a line from a Winston Churchill speech that I use on my kids all the time to try to sound wiser than I actually am. In the case of the NASCAR Cup Series racing on street courses, the answer as to what will happen Sunday in Chicago lies smattered throughout history. From Tacoma in ‘86 to the state of absolute incompetence of the Next Gen car on road courses, this can only go one of two ways.
My fearless prediction is, I will either be a snooze fest like Sonoma (as I think it’ll be), or it’ll be an absolute wreck-filled mess like the Charlotte ROVAL, the Indianapolis road course, or turn 1 at COTA.
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