Open Wheeled Racing – Chicagoland Speedway

It’s late August. This mean that most residents can’t even guess what the temperatures will be in the Chicagoland area. 10-20 degree differences between downtown, the lake, the suburbs, and the inland neighborhoods will screw up your choices of what to wear on your commute. Highs ranging from 60-105 degrees can be expected while the norm is usually hovering around the high 80′s and low 90′s. Today in Joliet, specifically on the infield at Chicagoland Speedway, the temperature hit a high of 91 degrees. Which seems totally bearable if I wasn’t spending my day suited up in a fire-retardant auto racing suit complete with a head-sock and helmet. Sigh. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet I guess.

As a Father’s Day gift, my 17 month old son whipped out his iPad and checked out the local Groupon deals. Amazingly, Mario Andretti Racing School was having a reduced-price NASCAR driving experience / ride along or you could drive your own Indy-styled open wheeled race car / ride along in one driven by a former professional.

Well, that’s an easy one. I WANT TO BE THE ONE DRIVING. So fast forward a couple of months to today. Chicagoland Speedway is a 1.5 mile ‘D’ Oval track that is was clearly designed for speed and for the 75,000 people in the stands. 18 degree banked corners on an intermediate track allow for some ridiculous pass attempts but not a ton of room in the straightaways. Basically, in an Indy car that has been chipped at 5,000 RPM’s, you can sit on the throttle right around 4,970 RPM’s and power through all four turns without coming anywhere near your brakes. When all is said and done and we do the math on weight vs. power vs. downforce vs. airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow… That’s something like 142 mph at all times around the track with less than 4 inches between your butt and the ground and who knows how many G forces beating you down in each of the gloriously banked corners (if I knew the radius of the corners at Chicagoland Speedway I could figure out the G’s but alas… I can only find the length of each corner).

To put that into perspective, the fastest NASCAR lap on that track during a Sprint Cup Race is 145.138 mph. Of course during qualifying, the fastest lap recorded during time trials for a Sprint Cup Race is 188.147 mph. When we switch over to the Indy car series, fastest lap during a race is 194.828 mph and fastest qualifying lap is an astounding 223.159 mph. So basically I was doing really well if I was racing a NASCAR car with 42 other bozos if we just looked at average speeds. But I wasn’t. I had three other cars on the track. And none of us wanted to be anywhere near each other…

It was pretty impressive. And to be honest, I’ll do it again in a heartbeat. Any time you get the chance to power a motor vehicle at high speeds around a closed track that’s got more than 3 degrees of bank to it, I’m going to go out on a limb and scream till I’m blue in the face that you should, nay, NEED to sell your soul to make it happen. It’s abusive, exhausting, and in the end, the most fun you’ll have legally in a car.

Also? 1 to 1 steering is a-whole-nother ball game. BMW owners think they know precise steering. They have another think coming. Always keep it Shinyside up. And as usual, downloadable photos can be found here: Shiny Side Flickr

About Ian Merritt

Ian D. Merritt is a commercial, editorial, and automotive photographer and journalist living in Chicago.
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One Response to Open Wheeled Racing – Chicagoland Speedway

  1. Moe says:

    that baby sure knows how to shop!!! I would deal with the sweating in a fire retardant suit if i got to go 142MPH! in an open wheel car

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