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rguably the biggest sporting event in Illinois takes place in our backyards at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet.
This year’s NASCAR racing action returns June 28 to July 1 with four races throughout the weekend. Defending champion Martin Truex Jr. is slated to race, along with other big names like Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson.
The action kicks off with the ARCA Series at 8 p.m. June 28, said Scott Paddock, Chicagoland Speedway president. It’s a developmental starter league, he said.
“NASCAR has three national touring series,” Paddock said. “The first is called the Camping World Truck Series Overton’s 225.”
That will be held at 8 p.m. June 29. If a driver performs well at the Camping World Truck Series, he advances to the NASCAR Xfinity Series Overton’s 300 at 2:30 p.m. June 30, he said.
“Sunday’s the big one,” he said. “It’s called the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Overton’s 400.”
That race is at 1:30 p.m. with a pre-race concert by country music star Randy Houser at 11:30 a.m. and opening ceremonies beginning at 12:30 p.m.
Overton’s is the new sponsor this year for all three series, he said.
“They are America’s largest marine and watersports superstore,” he said. “That will be a great fit with our fan base, who are outdoor enthusiasts.”
This year’s theme is Stars and Stripes NASCAR Weekend.
“We have a really nice tradition where Jim Cornelison, the legendary National Anthem singer for the Chicago Blackhawks, comes out and kicks things off with his memorable rendition of the National Anthem,” Paddock said.
Additionally, there will be a flyover from the U.S. Air Force.
NASCAR is the biggest sporting event in Illinois, a designation Paddock is very proud of.
“Our NASCAR event weekend … attracts fans from all across the country. We’re proud of the economic engine that we serve as for the state and the region,” Paddock said. “NASCAR is second-only to the NFL in terms of the TV audience and our NASCAR broadcast will be televised in about 175 countries around the globe.
“So the visibility that this event generates for Joliet, Will County and Chicago is pretty significant. There’s a visibility and exposure that comes with it, being able to showcase our city to the world. That’s great for tourism.
“People come from all around the country and international destinations,” he said. “Many of them plan vacations around this event. They stay in our hotels and eat in our restaurants and take in our tourist attractions in and around the event weekend. I think our latest estimate suggested that this event weekend will drive about $140 million in economic impact.”
While Paddock is proud of that economic impact, there’s much more to NASCAR.
“This is a great escape for people. There’s a lot of pressure and stress in life today. And this event … delivers a wonderful sense of community,” he said. “NASCAR is the quintessential American sport that brings people together like no other in this festival type of atmosphere. Camping is a big part of it, tailgating is a big part of it, music is a big part of it.”
Director of Communications, Chicagoland Speedway and Route 66 Raceway Denny Hartwig agreed.
“The kids are out of school and it’s a big camping/tailgating weekend. And it essentially kicks off the Fourth of July,” he said.
For camping, go to chicagolandspeedway.com to check out the options. There is tent camping and RV camping available either at the lakeside location or trackside location.
“The best way to take it in is to get an RV and camp on the inside of Chicagoland Speedway,” Hartwig said. “There are people that have been coming here a long time. They have the same camp spot and the same seats with their friends. They do that year after year and keep that tradition alive.”
On race day, Champions Park is where you will find all the action before racing starts, Paddock said.
“Champion’s Park is where drivers do autograph sessions and radio stations are doing live remotes and the sponsor engagement activities are going on,” he said. “Toyota will do their thrill drive, giving fans an access to drive a Toyota on a thrill course.”
There will be “dozens and dozens” of bands of all different genres performing in the infield and campgrounds and Midway area, Paddock said.
“Music is such a big part of the … whole race weekend experience,” he said.
There will be more than 150,000 fans that come out during the weekend, Hartwig said. Brand-new fans to the sport can enjoy the interactive displays while the hardcore NASCAR fans can buy headsets to listen to the team communication with the drivers.
“How deep into it you want to get, the options are endless,” he said.
Two things that differentiate NASCAR from all other sports, Paddock said, is a sense of community and the access this sport uniquely delivers.
“We can get fans inside the ropes and under the tent like no other. In the garage area, in the pit area, in the drivers’ meeting where drivers are getting their last instructions before the dropping of the green flag,” he said. “The access to the drivers for autographs and photos and questions and answer sessions — it’s like having a sideline pass and locker room access to a Bears game at Soldier Field and that doesn’t happen for a typical fan. But it does in this sport. It’s part of the fabric and history of NASCAR and what makes it so unique and special.
“We have something for everyone,” Paddock said. “It’s this incredible sense of community and a great slice of Americana with access like no other sport.”
“This event is … literally the biggest party in the state,” Hartwig said. “I think if you live in the Midwest, it should be a check-the-box item.”
Where: 500 Speedway Blvd., Joliet
Dates: June 28-July 1
Tickets: $15-$180; kids 12 and under free in some sections and $25 off Sunday
Information: 888-629-7223; www.chicagolandspeedway.com
Schedule of events (subject to change)
1 p.m. parking lots open
2 p.m. gates, box office, Champion’s Park, Infield Fan Zone, hospitality/suites open; ARCA final practice
4:30 p.m. NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice
5:35 p.m. ARCA qualifying
6:35 p.m. NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice
8 p.m. ARCA Series Scott 150 Race
1 p.m. parking lots open
2 p.m. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series hauler parade
3 p.m. gates, box office, Champion’s Park, Infield Fan Zone, hospitality/suites open
3:35 p.m. NASCAR Xfinity Series practice
4:40 p.m. NASCAR Camping World Truck Series qualifying
6:35 p.m. NASCAR Xfinity Series final practice
7:30 p.m. NASCAR Camping World Truck Series pre-race ceremonies and driver introductions
8 p.m. NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Overton’s 225 race
8 a.m. parking lots open
10 a.m. gates, box office, Champion’s Park, Infield Fan Zone, hospitality/suites open
10:30 a.m. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice
11:40 a.m. NASCAR Xfinity Series qualifying
1 p.m. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series final practice
2 p.m. NASCAR Xfinity Series pre-race ceremonies and driver introductions
2:30 p.m. NASCAR Xfinity Series Overton’s 300 Race
6:05 p.m. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying
6:30 a.m. early bird parking lots (B, D and P) open
7:30 a.m. parking lots open
8 a.m. gates, box office, Champion’s Park, Infield Fan Zone, hospitality/suites open
11:30 a.m. Randy Houser pre-race concert
12:50 p.m. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series pre-race ceremonies with driver introductions
1:30 p.m. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Overton’s 400
Annie Alleman is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.
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