First came the whispers. “Unbelievable,” some said. “Blasphemous,” pundits declared. With each utterance, good or bad, those tepid whispers beat the odds and grew into a robust and unflinching rallying cry that resonated through the great people of Race Land USA: NASCAR needs a street course!
OK, so it probably didn’t shake out exactly like that, but as executives battle for the attention of global viewership out on center stage in the corporate octagon, audiences continue to leverage their eyeballs to get what they want, including the ardent fans of NASCAR. It’s an incredible power to behold, and now, as the spirit of innovation courses its way through the NASCAR ranks under the leadership of President Steve Phelps, COO Steve O’Donnell, and SVP Ben Kennedy, it’s never been a better, more vital move for the sport to add a street race in 2023.
By taking it to the streets, NASCAR stands to execute one of the largest, most spectacular sporting events on record. With the rumble of engines echoing throughout a pedestrian-filled downtown, at its core, the inherent buzz percolating around the sport’s first exhibition in street racing stands to generate an impressive volume of ticket sales while also creating an electric atmosphere few live entertainment events could even fathom.
Punctuated by tall buildings and sweeping swaths of shops and restaurants, racing in a highly contained yet congested space is thrilling to watch both live and on television. In a similar fashion to the street courses featured in Formula 1 and IndyCar, the infrastructure of the city creates a naturally contagious energy that spreads through the metropolitan corridors like wildfire. A successful foray out of the gate would turn future races into a prideful city-wide event, and if IndyCar is a remotely accurate litmus test, that could easily translate into a massive economic generator for any city, fueled by upwards of 300,000 ticket holders over a three-day weekend.
Driver Skill & Advanced Car Design
As riveting as it would be to watch, the real excitement always lives in the captain’s chair. In what would surely equate to a route of tighter turns and narrower lanes, the concept of a street course in a typically bustling downtown has earned broad support, galvanizing most drivers who are all thrilled to showcase their talents in a more dynamic environment.
Besides course layout, the intrepid new design of NASCAR’s Next-Gen Car will force drivers to rely on their honed skills as they slalom through the boulevards. Flaunting a sleek, composite body with enhanced aerodynamic symmetry in addition to wider tires, wheels, and track width could force drivers to make gutsy calls as they jockey for position on restricted streets. Thus, precision behind the wheel is of paramount importance. If a real-life "Fast & Furious" is nearly upon us, what better story to tell than the timeless battle of man vs. machine?
Lucrative TV Contracts
Not only would a street course propel high ticket sales and a massive boost to the local economy, the last few years has shown that large-scale live events can demand significant television contracts. According to FOX writer Bob Pockrass, the FOX portion of the season elevated viewership by 6 percent from the previous season with an average of nearly 3.7 million viewers throughout each race, yet NASCAR executives know they must continue to experiment; continue to innovate; and continue to evolve if they hope to attract new audiences. As the suits continue to embrace change, surely one thing is on their mind more than most: NASCAR’s television contracts are up 2024. Adding a shiny new element like a street race signifies a bold stance by racing’s brass that will surely pay dividends for years to come.
Though the logistical demands and costly production of a street race pose significant issues to running a smooth event, it appears that NASCAR and Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot are in advanced discussions to bringing a street race to the Windy City. Considering Chi-town’s plethora of landmarks weaving seamlessly through its unique grid, it’s no wonder why the Second City is ground zero for a street course. Plotting a potential route here features all the trappings for a successful, visual feast: the Chicago River, Soldier Field, Millennium Park, Buckingham Fountain and Wrigley Field just for starters. More importantly, NASCAR deciding to integrate a street course into the 2023 schedule means leadership is doing the most important thing it can: listen to the fans. Where some sports leagues may be resistant to change at the top, when it comes to stock car racing, NASCAR fully embraces change. What’s more is that the league not only listens to fans, it relies on them as co-stewards of the sport, giving credence to passionate opinions about what’s working, and what’s not. It’s a symbiotic relationship of give and take, and a profitable one that other sports, who want to thrive and not just survive, should do everything in their power to immediately replicate.
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USA Network will be the exclusive home for 23 of the next 26 NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series races through September. You can find the full schedule here.