July 23, 2024

Eye On Illinois: What other Prairie State sporting spectacles might be possible?

We have survived another NASCAR in Chicago weekend.

This fledgling summer tradition might not have registered on your personal radar, but given my three straight trips from the northern suburbs to Joliet for youth baseball – and then a last-minute decision to visit Wrigley Field Sunday afternoon – the race’s impact on interstate traffic was under consideration. (And it might be why I noticed a few city-dwelling friends populating their weekend Instagram feeds with images from elsewhere, like Galena.)

But as with last year, I didn’t actually care about the race itself. So light was my interest that I only now learned the race no longer is the Grant Park 220, as it was in 2023, but is now the Grant Park 165. That’s 75 laps on a 2.2-mile, 12-turn course.

That’s a bit of a bummer because the inaugural 220-mile course gave me reason to suggest it’d be more fun to have a straight A to B race from the “Welcome to Illinois Sign” in Danville all the way west to Moline on Interstate 74. As I wrote last summer, while that track wouldn’t do much for spectators (save for overpass onlookers), it could showcase the broadcasting power of drone cameras along with the many communities for which 74 is a prime thoroughfare. Perhaps there could be advertising tie-ins for the many public and private colleges and universities along the route.

Limiting the course to just 165 miles gives us different options. Illinois is far too tall (Rockford south to Decatur on Interstate 39 is close to 165), but just about the right width for a track from the Quad Cities to Lake Michigan primarily on I-88.

These are clearly preposterous suggestions, but so were the races NASCAR actually executed. People thought the Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa was folly, but that wildly popular event will officially begin its 51st year later this month.

NASCAR’s initial contract with Chicago only runs through 2025, so perhaps now is the time to plan a 2026 race tied into the Route 66 centennial celebration, which is already being planned. Illinois has 301 Route 66 miles, so just about anything NASCAR wants to try should be feasible, provided the civil engineers get broad latitude.

I don’t love any of these ideas personally, but it doesn’t take much to convince me a good spectacle is worth the effort, and although the 2023 NASCAR Chicago race was a TV ratings bonanza, the returns on such things tend to diminish – consider the many iterations of the outdoor National Hockey League games or Major League Baseball’s second attempt at a Field of Dreams game in Dyersville, Iowa.

If Illinois builds [what], who will come?

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Local News Network. Follow him on X @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

Scott Holland

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.