UPDATED:THE TALK ABOUT ROUTE 66'S FUTURE
Plans have been unveiled that could mean an eventual end to a facility that has hosted NHRA national events for almost two decades.
Last week, it was learned that the planning commission for the city Joliet, Illinois, is to hear from a group that plans to turn much of the existing Chicagoland Speedway into a subdivision. The 1.5-mile track, which opened in 2001, is one of 13 facilities owned by NASCAR, which last fall completed an acquisition of a sister company, International Speedway Corporation.
A dozen of those tracks are designed to host NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series events and more. The lone exception is Route 66 Raceway, which has been a staple on the NHRA schedule since 1998. The dragstrip is located across West Schweitzer Road from Chicagoland Speedway’s main entrance.
But while the dragstrip is not shown on a map presented to the Joliet planning commission, the fact that a proposed rezoning of the neighboring track is in the works indicates that NASCAR is willing, or has a deal in the works, to shutter the facility located less than 50 miles from downtown Chicago.
The planning commission was to hear discussion on the proposed rezoning -- dubbed P-6-20 -- in mid-April, but the topic was postponed until the board’s Thursday, July 16, meeting.
The dragstrip, which is bordered on three sides by farmland, was completed a few years ahead of the speedway. The dragstrip and a dirt oval were built in 1998, and their construction was funded by a group of nine local entrepreneurs, the most notable of which was IndyCar team owner Dale Coyne. The 30,000-seat dragstrip cost $20 million to build. The adjacent dirt track has hosted numerous events for the World of Outlaws sprint car and late model divisions.
NHRA was to hold its annual Route 66 Nationals at the dragstrip July 9-12, but the coronavirus pandemic forced the sanctioning body to shuffle its schedule. The race is now slated for Aug. 29-30 between events at Topeka, Kan., and Indianapolis’ U.S. Nationals.
NHRA raced twice a year at Route 66 Raceway from 2001-06 before it was pared back to one event annually. The professional category winners in 2019 at Joliet were: Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car), Deric Kramer (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
Chicagoland Speedway was completed in 2001, and lights were added to the facility in ‘08. Last year, NASCAR announced that seating capacity had been reduced from 55,000 seats to 47,000.
Should the track be razed, it would be the second major racing facility in the Chicago area to go under this century. Chicago Motor Speedway hosted IndyCar and NASCAR-sanctioned truck races during its brief existence from 1999-2003.
NASCAR bought International Speedway last year for $2 billion, which meant private ownership.
In a similar move, Sonic Financial, a holding company whose properties include Speedway Motorsports Inc., also announced last year its intention to buy all outstanding shares of stock in the company. SMI owns the dragstrips that host NHRA national events at Charlotte, Bristol, Sonoma and Las Vegas.