In NASCAR Cup Series’ 73 years it has never had its drivers compete on a street course but, like many things in our post-pandemic world, that is about to change.
Or at least it will virtually.
NASCAR announced Wednesday its Cup Series drivers will race through the streets of Chicago for its 2021 eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series — a virtual racing exhibition featuring the sport’s most high-profiled drivers.
These drivers will speed through city streets passing by iconic architecture and driving on Lake Shore Drive past Buckingham Fountain and Grant Park.
The race course is possible through a partnership with the city and iRacing, which scanned real streets and avenues to develop the virtual course.
iRacing is the leading virtual racing platform that offers open practice, head-to-head racing, team racing and other competitions. The racing portal designs “officially sanctioned” racing circuits from around the world and replica race cars.
The partnership between NASCAR and iRacing was formed last year after the coronavirus pandemic shut down racing circuits across the country. The two organizations created the Pro Invitational Series.
Last year’s series, broadcasted on FOX and FS1, were ranked as the highest-rated esports TV programs that garnered 6.8 million unique viewers.
NASCAR said that while it won’t race at Chicagoland Speedway in 2021, “running through the heart of Chicago demonstrates the sport’s commitment to engaging fans across the region.”
Once iRacing has completed building Chicago’s new virtual race course it will make it available to customers to test their driving skills.
The Pro Invitational Series will kick off its 2021 season at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Virtual Bristol Dirt on FS1 and the FOX Sports app. The season comprises 10 races.
The series will feature 36 NASCAR Cup Series drivers including Dale Earnhardt Jr. with FOX having the discretion to add up to four additional drivers. The drivers participating in the virtual series have not yet been announced.
FS1 will air the first five races at Bristol, Talladega Superspeedway, Darlington Raceway, Circuit of the Americas and the new Chicago Street Course.
NBC Sports will broadcast the second half of the season with locations to be announced at a later time.