Tony Stewart Chicagoland 2004 (Sherryl Creekmore/NASCAR Photo)
Tony Stewart Chicagoland 2004 (Sherryl Creekmore/NASCAR Photo)

Paper Tracks In Chicago

Remember when it seemed like every metropolitan area in this country was in the news regarding plans to build a new speedway in its locale?

The Chicago area was no exception with the idea of proposed “on-paper” speedways being the topic of discussion as early as 1914 and at almost a “fever pitch” during the late 1990s.

In July 1914, an article in the Hammond Times mentioned a proposed speedway to be built in the Roby area of Hammond, Ind., which borders Chicago’s city limits. The Chicago Motor Club was said to be behind the idea of a 2.5-mile race course, taking up some 700 acres of land, known as the Shedd Property.

The newspaper story said, “Roby will be the scene of the most costly and fastest two-and-a-half-mile automobile race course in this country and, it is said that it will equal, if not surpass, the famous automobile speedway in Indianapolis.”

Six years later in 1920, Roby Speedway, a converted horse racing track in Hammond, saw auto racing held with the final race being run in 1936.

Early in 1931, real estate broker Edward Rippe, of Chicago Heights, was said to represent a Chicago contingent in buying a 510-acre tract in Crete, Ill., for the purpose of building a concrete speedway.

In later years, Rippe was involved in the management and promotion of Illinois’ Torrence Speedway in 1936 and Raceway Park in 1938.

A proposed track was mentioned for the Homewood, Ill., area during the summer of 1953.  A 17-acre site near 176th and Halsted streets was talked about with opposition to the idea brought up by the owners of Santa Fe Park in nearby Willow Springs, who sought a writ of mandamus to compel the issuance to the part of light and sewer facility permits.

Santa Fe had just opened in May and was about 22 miles north of the proposed raceway. The property was near the site of the old Thornton Speedway.

With Illiana Motor Speedway in Schererville, Ind., going along in the 1950s, a group started plans to build another race track near the town of Schererville. The proposed site was just west of Route 41 near the old Triangle Airport in Dyer, Ind.

In 1980, during the reign of Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne, there was talk of the possibility of a Chicago Grand Prix. First, Formula One was mentioned, and later a doubleheader program with Indy cars and Can-Am cars was discussed. Racing down Lake Shore Drive, speeding by Buckingham Fountain and around the Field Museum was mentioned. However, Mayor Byrne’s idea really never got much traction.

Lowell, Ind., was on the map to get a new auto racing track — that was the talk in early 1992. A new drag strip, replacing the old U.S. 30 Dragstrip in Ross Township (Hobart, Ind.) was being planned for a 560-acre plot near Interstate 65 and Indiana Route 2.  Numerous nearby residents said “no” to the idea.

In February 1993, a $70 million, two-mile track was planned for the Peotone/Monee area. Chicagoland attorney Robert W. Hallock headed up the project, which had been in the works for about a year prior. Illinois Int’l Speedway was planned to have seating for more than 119,000 fans with a smaller, seven-tenths-mile paved track inside the big speedway.

Late in 1996, meetings were held to bring auto racing to DuPage County with several interested parties submitting proposals, including everything from a 1.5-mile oval track to a 3.8-mile road course.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported on Nov. 9, 1996, that A.J. Foyt and Associates was going to build a $150 million, three-track auto racing complex just south of Kankakee, Ill. Two separate tracks — a 1.5-mile oval with seating for 120,000 and a one-mile oval with 50,000 seats, plus a quarter-mile drag strip were in the plans.

West Chicago was also a potential site for a new speedway with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the International Speedway Corp. and home improvement store magnate John Menard named as being part of the project. The proposal was to spend between $60 million and $70 million, building a 1.5-mile raceway on several hundred acres near the DuPage-Kane County line.

Both tracks were scrapped with Foyt telling the Chicago Sun Times, “When I signed on to this project, I said I wouldn’t start doing anything until the financing was in place. I kept getting told the money was being wired tomorrow and tomorrow never came.”

As 1997 rolled along, a $100 million auto racing facility was proposed in Kendall County with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the International Speedway Corp., which had jointly formed the Motorsports Alliance, reportedly involved

During 2002 and ’03, Wayne Adams III attempted to build the New Raceway Park in either the Monee, Wilmington or Joliet areas. The $8 million short track was to replace the iconic Raceway Park near Blue Island, which closed in 2000.

An overhead look at Chicago Motor Speedway, which was in operation from 1999 to 2002.
An overhead look at Chicago Motor Speedway, which was in operation from 1999 to 2002.

As late as 2006, Pembroke Township was on the map for a multi-complex facility that was proposed by Norm Nevinger III. His plan called for a half-mile, high-banked, paved track similar to Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.

Out of stacks of press releases, media coverage, meetings and “official” announcements, there were several tracks that opened.

Route 66 Raceway in Joliet held its first events in 1998, kicking off its opening season with a multi-day NHRA event in late May. Indy car owner Dale Coyne was the track’s president and CEO.

A separate half-mile dirt track was also built with sprint cars and late models competing there in 1998. Early plans for the Route 66 facility called for a two-mile road course to be built. Coyne was quoted as saying, “I expect to hold four or five major road-racing events in 1999.”

A longtime Chicago area horse racing track, Sportsman’s Park was converted into a 67,000-seat automobile speedway and dubbed Chicago Motor Speedway. The track hosted its inaugural race for the CART Indy Car Series on Aug. 22, 1999.

CART, NASCAR trucks and ASA stock cars competed there on the “paper clip” 1.029-mile oval with racing suspended in 2002. The grandstands were torn down in 2005 and the property was razed in 2009.

The demise of Chicago Motor Speedway was the construction of Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, adjacent to Route 66 Raceway.  With a 75,000-seat capacity, the new $100 million, 1.5-mile oval was constructed under the partnership of the Motorsports Alliance, including NASCAR, and Route 66 Raceway.

Kevin Harvick won the first NASCAR Cup Series race, the Tropicana 400, there on July 15, 2001.

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