Sunday, Sep 25

Transcript: Chicago Street Course Press Conference

THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Marty Snider from NBC Sports. It's a pleasure to be here in Chicago for today's special event. I want to welcome the media, the many special guests in attendance, as well, everyone listening and watching on NASCAR.com as well as everyone on Sirius XM NASCAR radio. I want to also welcome NASCAR CEO Jim France and NASCAR executive vice chair, Lesa Kennedy. They have both been so instrumental in making today's announcement a reality.

I want to say a welcome and thank you to the many public officials from the city of Chicago, the State of Illinois who are here today. Please hold your applause until the end. Paul Goodrich, the COO of the City of Chicago; Samir Mayekar, deputy mayor of Chicago; Michael Fassnacht, CEO, World Business Chicago; Superintendent David Brown, Chicago Police Department; Alderman Walter Burnett; Alderman Scott Waguespack; Glenn Eden, Choose Chicago board chair; Senator Don Harmon, president of the Illinois Senate; and Sylvia Garcia, director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. Thank you all so much for being here today.

Also want to say a big thanks to all the folks who have walked by and stopped to see the cars and see this press conference. We're so glad you're here for today's big announcement. Thank you guys for stopping by, as well. This promises to be one of the most exciting announcements in NASCAR history, especially as the sport celebrates its 75th anniversary in 2023. That's pretty cool, isn't it.

To help make this announcement, please welcome up NASCAR senior vice president, racing development and strategy, Ben Kennedy.

BEN KENNEDY: Thank you, Marty, and as Marty mentioned, thank you all for being here today. This is a monumental day in the history of our sport at NASCAR, and as Marty mentioned, next year we'll be celebrating our 75th anniversary. In 75 years our sport has never had a street course, and I am excited and proud to announce to you today that on July 2, 2023, the NASCAR Cup Series will be coming to downtown Chicago and racing here, so really excited about that.

(Video shown.)

Certainly incredible and we're all very excited about it. Again, thank you all for being here. Thank the media for coming out. I just want to say thank you to the city of Chicago. You have been instrumental in your support for this.

We have Mayor Lori Lightfoot here. She has been fantastic; Kara Bachman with the Sports Commission. All the state leaders and city officials, we appreciate all of your support in helping us get to today. We know we've got a lot of work ahead of us, but we look forward to it. Looking forward to bringing up our panelists and talking a little bit more about this.

THE MODERATOR: Pretty cool stuff there. As Ben mentioned, we'll have a terrific group of panelists here so let's welcome them now. Welcoming NASCAR president Steve Phelps today; driver of the No. 23 McDonald's Toyota Camry for 2311 in the NASCAR Cup Series, driver Bubba Wallace; the Mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot; and the executive director of the Chicago Sports Commission, Kara Bachman. Pretty esteemed panel we have going on here.

Mayor Lightfoot, obviously this is a huge moment for the city of Chicago, massive undertaking for not only the city but for NASCAR, as well. Why was it important to bring NASCAR to your city?

LORI LIGHTFOOT: First of all, let me thank all the folks at NASCAR. When we started talking about this opportunity a year ago, the excitement among all of us and particularly me about the possibilities was just off the charts. This is a huge, huge sports town. I think that goes without saying. The opportunity to bring something so unique as NASCAR to the city of Chicago, and I think it's going to be one of the most iconic race courses maybe ever, and introduce a whole new fan base to what NASCAR is about in the city of Chicago, we couldn't pass up that opportunity.

The fans of NASCAR, I don't have to tell you, are broad and wide and deep, and the opportunity to really, I think, ignite our tourism with a new iconic event on the calendar was a no-miss opportunity.

I want to thank NASCAR. I want to thank the Kennedys. You've both been tremendous partners for us. I want to thank Kara Bachman and the folks at the Sports Commission and Choose, but you look at this crowd and you know why we need to bring NASCAR to Chicago. This is the tip of the iceberg, and I think the excitement is now going to be off the charts, and people are really going to be looking forward to July of 2023 when the cars hit the streets here.

THE MODERATOR: That's a pretty cool point because look at all these fans who have stopped in the street. NASCAR has made several big moves with the schedule over the last couple years. Where does this one rank in your opinion?

BEN KENNEDY: That's a good question. I think to your point, if you look at our schedules over the past couple years, we've made a lot of bold changes. Went to LA Coliseum earlier this year, new tracks, went to Worldwide Technology Raceway about a month or so ago.

I'd say of all the changes, this is our boldest change in the schedule. We've said, and it's been pretty synonymous when we announce the schedules, that we want to be bold and innovative and we think about new venues and new concepts that we're going to. This is No. 1 on the list for us right now, and it's certainly going to be the most anticipated event of our season and one of the biggest sport events in our country in 2023.

We're really excited about it, and as Mayor Lori Lightfoot had mentioned, when you think about Chicago, you think about the rich history of sports here, you think about the iconic skyline, you think about the iconic landmarks around the city, Navy Pier, Cloud Gate, a handful of them, to actually have our NASCAR Cup cars racing around the streets of Chicago is going to be something just incredible.

We'll get into it in a little bit I know, but as you think about the race weekend it's going to be on July 1st and July 2nd next year, so we'll have one of our IMSA sanctioned series that will be competing on Saturday; our NASCAR Cup Series, our premier series, will be competing on Sunday, and really want to create an event-driven atmosphere around it. We want it to be fun. We want it to be a great atmosphere and experience for a lot of people to come out, get to enjoy racing, get to enjoy music, get to enjoy a lot of great things that Chicago has to offer.

THE MODERATOR: First street course for NASCAR; what are your goals for this race, Ben?

BEN KENNEDY: We have a lot of goals, that's for sure. There is no shortage of goals on this one. I'd say the first couple that come to mind is we want to put on great racing for our fans. I think if you look at the Cup schedule today, some of the best racing that we see are on road courses. I think this is going to be very similar to that. I think our fans will see a really exciting show.

We were driving around it earlier today. When you go down Columbus and you go down Lake Shore, a lot of passing zones and passing lanes that Bubba and I know the drivers are going to have the ability to do. So I think that's part of it.

I think part of it is creating a fun atmosphere for everyone that's coming out. I think in ways this will feel like a traditional NASCAR race. I think in a lot of ways it's going to feel completely different, too. It's going to feel new. It's going to be innovative, similar to the Coliseum, that felt very different from kind of the traditional NASCAR race. It'll still have a lot of those traditional elements but it's also going to feel new and exciting for a lot of the folks that come out.

I'd say the last one and important one is we really want to have a positive impact on the city of Chicago, as well. They've been great partners with us along the way and looking forward to bringing this to life, and I think a big part of that is really having a positive impact on the city and community, working with the different departments in the area, and it's great to have the Boys and Girls Club out here, as well. I know we've got a couple simulators out back if anyone wants to take a couple laps around the course, try it out. We're actually going to be donating those afterwards to the Boys and Girls Club. Really looking forward to it.

THE MODERATOR: Mayor Lightfoot is already volunteering people for the simulator.

LORI LIGHTFOOT: I'm telling him let the kids go first.

THE MODERATOR: That's good, let the kids go first.

Steve, want to bring you into this. If I had to pick two words for NASCAR, schedule changes over the last two years, bold and innovative come to mind in my opinion, how does this announcement sort of fit in with the overall strategy of NASCAR?

STEVE PHELPS: Yeah, I think the two words are right, and Ben had said it, bold and innovative. I think if you think back to 2020, being the first sport back to competing during a COVID world was important for us. The first sport back to competing in front of fans was important for us and the country frankly to get back into a rhythm that people were familiar with. I think it was unexpected.

We've done a lot of things that I think are unexpected. The stance we took on social justice, our efforts that we've done since then in diversity, equity and inclusion have been very important for our sport.

Schedule variation, we had our boldest schedule ever in 2021 and the changes that we made were significant, followed up by, to Ben's point, the Clash at the Coliseum was tremendous; going to Worldwide Technology Raceway, as well.

So continue to have changes to the schedule. This announcement is obviously unbelievable. I mean, first time I heard that this was a possibility, I'm like, wow, that would be really cool. And getting Mayor Lightfoot and all the community to embrace us is huge for us.

But I think it goes past just the schedule. I think it really is -- if you think about the car itself, our Next-Gen car and what the racing that has put on for us has been fantastic. Our three OEM partners, Toyota, Chevy and Ford, leaning in; our race teams, our drivers, arguably the best racing in the history of our 75 years. That's what this car has done for us. It's important.

We want to continue to be bold and innovative as people think about NASCAR in the future because that's exactly what we're going to do.

THE MODERATOR: Bubba, I want to hear from you as a driver. How excited are you to be a part of the first ever street course race as a Cup Series driver?

BUBBA WALLACE: Yeah, just like at the racetrack I'm excited for this cloud coverage right now because it's hot.

But no, I think just congrats to NASCAR, congrats to the city of Chicago. This is monumental for our sport. There's a lot of unknowns, and if you've been following my journey for the last little bit, I've always said the unknowns is what excites me.

I don't know what to expect going into this deal. I know that these guys got a lot of work to do and the city does, too, to get it ready. It's exciting. I think as Mayor Lightfoot said earlier, being in this city, bringing NASCAR to this demographic, we talk about how representation matters, and I think exposing this sport to this area, downtown, with so much to do around while the race is going on is super important.

You're going to get that next Bubba Wallace that's sitting in the stands like I was when I was nine years old to be like, hey, I want to do this one day but I want to be better, and I'm going to tell them, good luck.

THE MODERATOR: You've become an incredible ambassador for the sport, for your partners over the last few years. What does competing in an iconic city like Chicago do for the sport and partners in the sport, as well?

BUBBA WALLACE: Yeah, well, obviously you guys know, the majority owner of our team has done a lot for this city, Michael Jordan obviously, being under his banner, being under his wing and knowing how much he means to the Chicago area is super cool, and I'm proud to carry that to our race team and in our race cars and to the racetrack.

For being here, like I said earlier, it's just the representation, showing that NASCAR can survive in a market like this and will succeed in a market like this is very beneficial.

So just proud to be a part of it, proud to be having my voice and my opinion in the matter, and just making the most of it.

The biggest thing that I was always asked from my dad growing up when we were racing was "are you having fun?" And this has fun written all over it, so we'll make the most of it.

THE MODERATOR: Kara, I want to talk to you because you've been to several NASCAR races. Nobody probably knows Chicago sports better than you do. How does this fit in with the essence of what Chicago sports is?

KARA BACHMAN: Well, it's a great fit. I think NASCAR and Chicago share a lot in common. We have a number of nicknames, and one really resonates when we talk about Chicago and NASCAR, and that's "the city that works." We're about hard work. We're about our people. NASCAR has those same values. We're about -- both of us are about giving back, building up, creating opportunities for youth and communities. We're innovative. We're problem solvers constantly. We're accepting new challenges, and we're all working together.

You see that in Chicago, and you see that at every NASCAR race. You see that synergy between the driver and a pit crew, and you can't have one without the other to get the success that they need to do to be a winning team.

On behalf of the Sports Commission and Choose Chicago and our board chair Glenn Eden is here today, thank you, Glenn. We just couldn't be prouder to be on a team with NASCAR and welcoming the first ever street race to Chicago. Just very grateful for the leadership of our mayor. You mentioned that who knows sports better than I? Well, I'm surprised she didn't challenge you on that, and we can maybe share that.

But I just want to say, thank you for mentioning some of the contributing team members in your earlier remarks, and I'll mention a few other people who have been really phenomenal in this process including Bob Reiter, the president of Chicago Federation of Labor. Thanks for being here, Bob. Andrew Velasquez, first deputy commissioner of Chicago Department of Aviation. Terrific partners there. Rosa Escareño, newly minted superintendent and CEO of the Chicago Park District, her and her entire team, really could not absolutely have done this without all of you, so thank you so very much. I believe CDOT First Deputy Commissioner Carney is here, and I believe Commissioner Stallard is here, and we have Commissioner Harkey and Jennifer Johnson Washington with DCASE, tremendous partners. Our city works so well together so you can expect a tremendous event here in Chicago.

Finally, thank you to the Chicago Sports Commission board who have supported us from day one. They like to battle out what their favorite event is, but I have a feeling this is going to definitely take the cake as our greatest accomplishment in the 10 years that the Sports Commission has been operating, so thank you all for your support.

I would just say that yes, we're the city that works. We have a number of nicknames. Sometimes they say "second city," but I really think, NASCAR, you're making us No. 1, so we'll take that.

BUBBA WALLACE: I'm not here to run second.

KARA BACHMAN: We'll do that, No. 1, that's where we're at.

THE MODERATOR: Kara, we appreciate your work and everyone you mentioned, as well, to make this day happen. Want to welcome up to the stage Jim France, Lesa Kennedy to present Mayor Lightfoot with a very special gift from NASCAR.

LESA FRANCE KENNEDY: Mayor, we want to thank you for everything that you and your city of Chicago have done to get us to this very special day, and I think it's only appropriate for the first ever street course in NASCAR's history for us to give you this very special helmet. This is the first of its kind, a NASCAR helmet, and we also have commemorated all the landmarks of your city on the helmet, and I think I would take care of that pretty quick because I saw a young guy over there that wanted to put it on and might want to race down the road. With that, thank you so much for everything that you've done. Thank you.

THE MODERATOR: Could you please step forward for a photo, and everybody on the stage please get into the photo opportunity.

Thank you guys so much. Want to thank everyone on stage for making today's historic announcement happen. It will truly be a much-watched event on NBC Sports next year. Please visit NASCARChicago.com for more event information and to sign up for event alerts. Tickets will go on sale later this year.

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