Last month, NASCAR announced it will run a marquee street race in downtown Chicago over the Fourth of July weekend starting in 2023. Details have now come to light that the stock car racing behemoth might have pulled off the deal of the century at the expense of Chicago’s residents. Portions of Grant Park, where the street course will be centered, will be closed for twice as long as initially believed. NASCAR will also only be paying a fraction of the price paid by another significant event held in the park.
NBC 5 in Chicago obtained the permit agreement between NASCAR and the Chicago Park District through a Freedom of Information Act request. The details within the 46-page contract are surprising, to say the least. It was believed that the area directly surrounding the track would be closed for nine days before the race and three days after. While this is true, it omits a huge detail. The section of Grant Park west of the Buckingham Fountain, where the pit road and start-finish straight will be located, will be closed for three weeks before the race and ten days after.
The financial terms are also very beneficial for NASCAR. The sanctioning body will only have to pay a $500,000 fee to Chicago in 2023, which will escalate over the contract’s course. The permit fee will be $550,000 in 2024 and $605,000 in 2025. The agreement includes an option to extend the event through 2027. On top of the permit fee, Chicago will receive $2 on every ticket sold and a 15 percent commission on concessions, which will also escalate by 5 percent each year of the three-year deal.
Several Chicago aldermen noted that they couldn’t see the permit’s terms until it was presented to them by NBC 5. 2nd Ward Alderman Brian Hopkins was frustrated by the permit and pointed out how little the city was making compared to Lollapalooza, the long-running music festival held annually in Grant Park. He told NBC 5, “Compared to what we get from Lollapalooza, we get $6 million from Lollapalooza’s permit payments, we’re going to get under a million from NASCAR for tying up downtown and Grant Park during the summer.” Lollapalooza will also be moved from July to August to accommodate the NASCAR race.
The permit also turns Chicago’s Grant Park into a NASCAR-owned race track even when the streets aren’t closed for the event weekend. NASCAR was granted the exclusive right to hold races in Grant Park, meaning that Formula 1 or IndyCar couldn’t offer Chicago a better deal to have an event in Grant Park without NASCAR’s permission. Also, NASCAR will only have to pay a $50,000 security deposit for damages to city infrastructure.
While NASCAR’s event on the streets of Chicago will improve stock car racing’s national profile, residents should get a fair deal for losing access to a public space during a large portion of the summer.