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Monaco on Lake Michigan? How NASCAR's second annual street race hopes to boost Chicago's economy

ChicagoGlobal by Jack Benjamin
Morry Gash / AP
In-motion image of racecars with the Chicago skyline in the background

Vying for international expansion, NASCAR's Grant Park race—akin to iconic global events like Monaco GP—bolsters Chicago's economy with a $109M impact.

Start your engines. NASCAR’s Grant Park 165 street race is being held once again this summer. Come July 6-7, Grant Park will play host to not only the race, but also concerts from The Black Keys, Keith Urban, and Lauren Alaina, among others. 

Many other global cities play host to street races, particularly for Formula 1. Indeed, some of the most iconic races happen on city streets, such as the Monaco Grand Prix, Singapore Grand Prix, and the races held at Baku City Circuit in Azerbaijan. 

But in the U.S., street racing is comparatively less common. While Formula 1 has hosted races in the U.S. market on several occasions, it was not until the Grant Park 165 debuted last summer that NASCAR – a historically more popular sport by U.S. viewership – dipped its toe into the street racing scene.  

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This story first appeared in the ChicagoGlobal newsletter, a joint project of Crain's Chicago Business and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.


Which raises the question: Of all the cities NASCAR could have brought a street race to first, why Chicago? 

“For us, the priority was an iconic location,” Julie Giese, the NASCAR executive in charge of the race, told ChicagoGlobal. “You talk about Monaco and those views – whether you’re familiar with the [Monaco Grand Prix] or not, you have a visual of it, right? I think Chicago lends itself to that with the location we’re racing in, around Buckingham Fountain, around Grant Park. You have this amazing skyline. … We work very closely with NBC, as well as city officials in Chicago, to create and tell that story.” 

'Not just a race weekend'

Giese emphasized that the event was designed to appeal to a wide swath of viewers and developed with the goal of growing NASCAR’s potential audience. That’s why the Chicago Street Race, as NASCAR calls the weekend of festivities, includes not only the Grant Park 165 race, but also a music festival.  

While NASCAR has often hosted pre- and post-race concert events at races around the country, Giese said the Chicago Street Race offers entertainment at a grander scale than elsewhere, by design. 

“When we look at the concert talent specifically, we want to make sure that we have something for everybody,” she said. “So you don't just have one specific genre; we try to make sure we have representation from a number of different genres.”  

That includes house music, which Giese calls a “quintessential part of Chicago’s culture.” To honor the Chicago-born genre on its 40th anniversary, one of the race’s music events will be a house music showcase featuring more than a dozen artists. 

85% of 2023 attendees were at their very first NASCAR race

With around a third of the attendees at the race because of the live music.

Such efforts are important for a city like Chicago, which is culturally and demographically different from the Southern markets that traditionally provide much of NASCAR’s fan base. As Giese noted, 85% of last year’s street race attendees were at their very first NASCAR race, with around a third attending because of the live music. 

“It’s not just a race weekend,” she said. 

An economic impact large enough to assuage doubts 

The race is intended to provide a boon to the local economy, as similar races around the world do.  

Monaco’s Grand Prix, for example, reportedly provides a €102 million boost over the course of its week each year. Singapore’s Ministry of Trade & Industry estimates that, since the country began hosting its Formula 1 Grand Prix in 2008, the race has generated S$1.5 billion (about $1.1 billion USD) in incremental tourism receipts. Similarly, in the first four years the Baku City Circuit hosted a Grand Prix (2016-2019), the Azerbaijani capital benefited directly and indirectly to the tune of $506.3 million. Local tourism and hospitality businesses tend to benefit most from the races. 

Following last year’s NASCAR street race, Temple University’s Sport Industry Research Center estimated that Chicago received an economic impact of $109 million from the event – $4 million shy of NASCAR’s original projections – plus an estimated $24 million worth of publicity from the race’s broadcast and promotion nationwide. That made it the second-most-impactful Chicago Sports Commission event of all time, behind the 2020 NBA All-Star Game. 

According to the study, the Chicago Street Race supported 750 jobs last year and generated $8.3 million in local and state taxes. The race drew an estimated 47,405 unique attendees, with just over half (52%) traveling to Chicago solely or primarily for the event. On average, attendees spent $684 per day. This year, NASCAR is hoping to expand this impact even further by launching a resource guide to help local businesses get their message in front of attendees. 

Giese also pointed out that the weekend’s effects on tourism in Chicago don’t end when the race is over. She said, for example, that 77% of non-local attendees last year said they would recommend Chicago as a travel destination, with nearly two-thirds (64%) planning on returning to the city for vacation. 

Despite all that, it is unclear whether last year’s relative success will be enough to temper criticism of the event as it heads into its second year. The inaugural race was not met with universal praise from Chicagoans, with many expressing frustration around traffic issues, Grant Park’s closure, and the postponement of Taste of Chicago, typically held in Grant Park near the Fourth of July, until after Labor Day weekend. Surveys conducted by Aldermen Bill Conway (34th) and Brendan Reilly (42nd) after the race last summer found residents divided on their desire to see the Chicago Street Race return for a second year, and Mayor Brandon Johnson did not immediately move to bring back the event following its conclusion last July. 

An aerial view of the Grand Prix stands set up in Monaco
Laura Downey

The stands set up along the track for the 2023 Monaco Grand Prix.

Aerial view of the Singapore skyline and the Formula 1 track and spectators
Wee San Goh

Spectators sit in the stands to watch the Singapore Formula 1 Grand Prix. 

Proof of concept 

Still, the positive results cited by Giese occurred despite last year’s inaugural race being inundated with nine inches of rain. As such, it was only possible to get 20 minutes of live music in, though the race itself was less affected. If the weather is better this year, the event’s attendance and impact could be even larger. 

Apart from hoping for more convenient weather, Giese said the biggest adjustment NASCAR has made year-to-year is improving efficiency for the build and teardown timeline. Accordingly, they have chopped six days off the schedule, which may help to assuage concerns over how long Grant Park will be shut down, compared to last year’s race. 

“Minimizing disruptions for residents and businesses is a priority for us,” Giese said. “We knew we were going to learn a lot last year, being the first year we were doing this. We’re [now] essentially just over five weeks from start to finish.” 

She added: “Making sure we have the green spaces of Grant Park open as long as possible for residents as well as visitors is important, knowing how important that park is. It’s iconic. And then from a traffic perspective as well, [we’re] tightening the window and minimizing disruptions on the streets.” 

While Giese and her team are focused on running the event in Chicago, they also understand the race is a proof of concept for NASCAR to consider further expansion of street races in the U.S. and internationally. NASCAR has held races outside the U.S. before, including events in Canada, Mexico, and Brazil, but they mostly haven’t been part of the sport’s flagship Cup Series (which includes the Grant Park 165). According to the league’s vice president and chief international officer, though, NASCAR is now “closer than it’s ever been” to creating an international Cup race. 

“If we can make this work here in Chicago, it opens up opportunities in a lot of other markets,” said Giese. “Our leadership has not been shy in pushing to continue to take our sport to new markets. That’s needed for growth.” 

She added: “You’re not seeing new racetracks being built on the ready right now, so in order to do that, you need to get creative on where you’re racing and how you’re racing… I think you’ll continue to see that it definitely opens the doors for more conversations.” 

This story first appeared in the ChicagoGlobal newsletter, a joint project of Crain's Chicago Business and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Subscribe today.

About the Author
Jack Benjamin
Freelance Writer
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Jack Benjamin is a journalist based in London. Born and raised in the Chicagoland area, he currently covers the media industry for The Media Leader, for which he also produces and hosts a podcast. He previously interned at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" and for Congressman Brad Schneider. He received his B.A. from Northwestern University and his M.Sc. in social policy from the University of Oxford.
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