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Fourth Turn – “Chicagoland?”

The race track sits in a farm-field setting, near industrial parks and within view of an older, urban area of Joliet, Illinois.

It was a really big deal back when the Chicagoland Speedway was first proposed by Tony George and the International Speedway Corporation in 1995 and opened in 2001. Wow, a track in the middle of America everyone thought, just off-of almost every Interstate that is anywhere near Chicago’s Mid-American hub. “Let’s go!”

Indy cars and NASCAR would run here, and with tickets allotted through a season ticket format, attendance initially boomed at the 75,000-seat facility.

But Indy cars left after the 2011 season and NASCAR moved its Sprint Cup weekend from June to September that year to become part of “The Chase” in hopes of stimulating somewhat declining attendance.

And for a facility located in the middle of a huge population base, with so many race fans and tracks within a few hours-drive of Chicagoland, why has there been that fall-off of attendance in recent years? Or is that proximity part of the problem?

NASCAR and Indy Car regularly compete nearby in Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Kentucky and Indiana; all just a few hour’s drive from Chicagoland’s front door. So, is oversaturation of major race events a problem?

The facility certainly isn’t the issue as the grandstand seating gives a remarkable, sweeping view of the whole track as well as Chicago’s downtown Loop. Parking, fan access and infrastructure are all on a par, or better than, many other major league racing facilities.

It’s likely that with only one really major weekend of racing on the track’s schedule, that the battle for media coverage in the metro-area has been won by the Cubs, Bears and PGA tournaments: all of which are competing with NASCAR’s Chase events for coverage this weekend.

So, fans, where are you? What’s the problem? What causes you to stay home?

Today’s Afib 400 Sprint Cup Chase race will draw a near capacity crowd, despite all of the competiton for the entertainment dollar and attention of the fans.

Route 66 Raceway holds a NHRA National event at the facilities’ drag strip each July that attracts a large following.

But attendance at the June stand-alone ARCA/Xfinity weekend was embarrassingly small and this weekend’s Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity events didn’t do much better.

One reason Indy cars don’t race here anymore was the falling attendance that happened after the season ticket requirement to buy NASCAR/Indy car ticket packages was dropped. A problem with race-date allocation likely was another issue.

The rival Chicago Motor Speedway (1999-2003), built in near-by Cicero to host mainly CART Indy car events disappeared once NASCAR came to Joliet.

We hope that the same doesn’t happen here someday.

We need to expand the sport. Let’s start by bringing IndyCar back to Chicagoland in the near future.

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Paul Gohde heard the sound of race cars early in his life.

Growing up in suburban Milwaukee, just north of Wisconsin State Fair Park in the 1950’s, Paul had no idea what “that noise” was all about that he heard several times a year. Finally, through prodding by friends of his parents, he was taken to several Thursday night modified stock car races on the old quarter-mile dirt track that was in the infield of the one-mile oval -and he was hooked.

The first Milwaukee Mile event that he attended was the 1959 Rex Mays Classic won by Johnny Thomson in the pink Racing Associates lay-down Offy built by the legendary Lujie Lesovsky. After the 100-miler Gohde got the winner’s autograph in the pits, something he couldn’t do when he saw Hank Aaron hit a home run at County Stadium, and, again, he was hooked.

Paul began attending the Indianapolis 500 in 1961, and saw A. J. Foyt’s first Indy win. He began covering races in 1965 for Racing Wheels newspaper in Vancouver, WA as a reporter/photographer and his first credentialed race was Jim Clark’s historic Indy win.Paul has also done reporting, columns and photography for Midwest Racing News since the mid-sixties, with the 1967 Hoosier 100 being his first big race to report for them.

He is a retired middle-grade teacher, an avid collector of vintage racing memorabilia, and a tour guide at Miller Park. Paul loves to explore abandoned race tracks both here and in Europe, with the Brooklands track in Weybridge England being his favorite. Married to Paula, they have three adult children and two cats.

Paul loves the diversity of all types of racing, “a factor that got me hooked in the first place.”