As Chicago Prepares for the NASCAR Race, Take a Look Back at This Old Wooden Race Track in Maywood
June 14, 2023
On July 1 and 2, Chicago will host the NASCAR Chicago Street Race, which will loop around parts of Grant Park, DuSable Lakeshore Drive, and Michigan Avenue. It might feel like a brand-new experience for many Chicagoans, but it’s certainly not the first time the city has experienced auto racing.
Chicago was actually home to the first American auto race on a snowy Thanksgiving Day on November 28, 1895. It was called the Chicago Times-Herald Race and was sponsored by the newspaper. According to the Chicago History Museum’s Encyclopedia of Chicago, the publisher of the paper announced the race as a promotion to sell more papers. He offered a $5,000 purse for “inventors who can construct practicable, self propelling road carriages.” The race ran from Jackson Park to Evanston and back, with just six “cars” racing in snowy conditions. Only two cars finished, and it took the winner nearly eight hours of running time to complete the 54-mile course, with an average speed of a blistering 7 miles per hour.
When auto racing—and cars, for that matter—became more common, plenty of racing tracks popped up in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. In the Chicago History Museum photo above, cars line up at the starting line of a 300-mile race that took place at Speedway Park in Maywood, Illinois in 1916. Speedway Park, also sometimes referred to as “Maywood,” had a massive, two-mile wooden track where open-wheel cars raced between 1915 and 1918.
The Chicago Motor Speedway at Sportsman's Park in Cicero, Raceway Park in Blue Island, and the Santa Fe Speedway are just a few of the other race tracks in the Chicago area. All of those have long since closed. Soldier Field also hosted several stock car races in the 1940s and 1950s.