Two Series Welcome The Windy City

CHICAGO -- Mike Helton and Tony George came to Navy Pier along Lake Michigan to sing the praises of the Windy City.

The NASCAR Winston Cup Series, NASCAR Busch Series and the Indy Racing Northern Light Series will grace the state of Illinois in 2001 with appearances at the newly named Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.

The Winston Cup Series will compete July 15, 2001, while the Busch Series will run as a companion event July 14. The IRNLS will roll into Chicagoland Speedway on Labor Day weekend to race Sept. 2.

"The action may be on the pavement, on the TV for a few hours, but the event is in the stands. It is in the infield and around the pits, the garage, in the town and city and around the area for days. It’s something to see, something to be a part of. And now that’s what you are, Chicago --a growing part of NASCAR," said Helton, NASCAR vice president and chief operating officer.

"With a population in excess of over 8 million people it is our goal to make sure that every one of those 8 million people know that NASCAR has come to town," Helton said. "As Bill France has often said, 'This sport doesn’t belong to any of us, this sport belongs to the people we all work for -- the fans.'"

George, founder of the Indy Racing League and president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation, realizes the importance of the growth of the IRNLS and cultivating the Midwest roots he has always been a part of.

"By adding the Chicago market, we are racing where much of our fan base is -- in the American Midwest," indicated George. "We are proud to say that after five years of racing in some of the top markets in this country, we are happy to have a major presence in the Midwest in 2001. We believe the presence of Chicago and other Midwest markets where race fans go for the reputation of Indy racing will be a major step forward in setting ourselves up for success."

Joie Chitwood, vice president and general manager of Raceway Associates, the organization working on construction of the track in Joliet, was not only on hand to elaborate on the status of development and ticket programs, but also, more importantly, to welcome the two series and its drivers.

"I’m proud to represent the partners of Raceway Associates in this project,"Chitwood said. "When we set out to build a major race track in Chicago several years ago, it was only a dream, but today it is a reality."

The 1.5-mile tri-oval, located 30 miles southwest of the Chicago city limits, will have 18-degree banking in the turns, 11-degree banking on the front straight and 5-degree banking on the back straight. Chicagoland Speedway will seat 75,000 in the grandstands and have 32 luxury suites with 70,000 parking spaces located on-site.

No pomp and circumstance would be complete without the drivers, and they came in full force. Representing the NASCAR Winston Cup Series were Jeff Burton, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Petty, while Kenny Wallace and Andy Santerre represented the Busch Series. Eddie Cheever Jr., 1998 Indy 500 champion, and Scott Sharp appeared on behalf of the IRNLS.

Stewart, a native of Rushville, Ind., admitted he will enjoy the proximity of Chicagoland Speedway.

"All my friends and family, they get to see me once a year and that’s at Indy (for the Brickyard 400)," Stewart said. "Having Chicago here, it is just another venue that we get to go to that’s close to home.

"In an area, instead of having to drive three hours down to Indianapolis to see a race, it’s closer for some of these folks. Especially people in Wisconsin, I have a lot of friends and family up there. It will be nice for them to be able to come down to this area and not have to fly or drive so far to come and see us. It will be more of a luxury."

Cheever, Burton and Santerre took a spin in their respective show cars around Navy Pier. Cheever joked around and said he hoped the cars would not have lap speeds that slow at Chicagoland Speedway.

Two interesting items Helton shared were that the Winston Cup Series competed in 1957 at Solder Field in Chicago and that in terms of the people who invest in the sport, more than 20 sponsors are headquartered in the Chicago area.

"We promise you the sights and sounds of big league competition the likes of which you’ll never experience in any other sport," Helton said. "I’ll leave you with a quote from Frank Sinatra -- Chicago is our kind of town."

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