The NASCAR race coming to Chicago next July could tie up a portion of Grant Park for over a month, which is more than twice what was previously expected, according to the event’s permit agreement obtained by NBC 5 Investigates.
That’s one of several new details revealed by the permit agreement between NASCAR and the Chicago Park District, obtained via Freedom of Information Act request, that multiple Chicago aldermen said even they had not previously seen.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the event last month: NASCAR’s first-ever urban street race scheduled for July 1 and 2 of next year. The deal between the city is for three years, tentatively slated to take place over the Fourth of July holiday weekend in 2024 and 2025 as well.
The newly obtained 46-page permit agreement reveals an option to extend the deal for 2026 and 2027 as well. It also shows that NASCAR will be given a staging window for a portion of Grant Park west of Buckingham Fountain that will last for 21 days before the race and then 10 days after. For the rest of the event site, including portions of DuSable Lake Shore Drive, Columbus Drive, Congress Plaza Drive and more, the staging window will be nine days prior and three days after.
“What we’re doing is basically renting downtown and Grant Park to this private enterprise,” 2nd Ward Ald. Brian Hopkins said.
NASCAR will pay the city $2 per ticket sold, excluding corporate suites and VIP passes, as well as a percentage of net commission on food and beverage: 15% next year, 20% in 2024, then 25% in 2025, according to the permit agreement. In addition to a portion of ticket sales, the agreement says NASCAR will pay the city a permit fee of $500,000 for next year’s event, $550,000 for 2024, then $605,000 in 2025. The event is expected to potentially draw 100,000 attendees.
“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,” Hopkins said.
NASCAR will also get use of the Petrillo Band Shell from Wednesday through Sunday of the event week and retains the exclusive broadcast rights as well as 100% of the proceeds from sponsorship sales, according to the agreement. It also notes that the Park District has granted NASCAR “the exclusive right to conduct automobile motorsports racing events at Grant Park” during the agreement, which runs through the end of 2025.
“This is going to be a very profitable event for NASCAR with all of their marketing, with all of their branding, and all of their side deals, they’re going to do quite well on this, they’re making dollars and we’re making pennies,” Hopkins said.
“This is a bad deal for the taxpayers. Even if you’re a NASCAR fan, the city left a lot of money on the table,” he added.
The agreement also reveals that the city and NASCAR have agreed to “coordinate the content and timing of all public statements and press releases” and that neither “shall make any public statements, to the press or otherwise, which portray the other party in an unfavorable light.”
“Judging from the details we are just learning now, it’s pretty obvious why the Administration forbade NASCAR from sharing the terms of the deal with the alderpersons who represent impacted communities: the more we learn, the worse this deal gets,” 42nd Ward Ald. Brendan Reilly said in a statement, adding, “I congratulate the media for obtaining the contract via FOIA, because that document still had not been shared with members of the City Council.”
The permit agreement also notes that NASCAR will pay the Park District a $50,000 security deposit for each year of the event for any damages that may occur. It does not specify what repairs NASCAR is required to pay if needed, only that a third-party landscape contractor will submit a damage assessment and restoration estimate after the event for NASCAR and the Park District to review.
“I find it incredible that the City believes a $50,000 ‘security deposit’ is sufficient to secure tens of millions of dollars worth of city infrastructure in and around Grant Park – for an auto race that sometimes involved major car crashes,” Reilly said.
Both Hopkins and Reilly said they believed City Council should have had more input on this event and are pushing to amend the rules so that in the future, deals like this would require Council approval.
Neither the Chicago Park District nor Choose Chicago’s Chicago Sports Commission responded to requests for comment.