Yesterday evening, downtown Joliet became the hub for NASCAR fans, live music and great food. Joliet hosted the annual Race Fan Rally, the largest single-day NASCAR fan fest in the Midwest, the Wednesday before the Sprint Cup races at the Chicagoland Speedway.
The event kicked off with a live performance of the national anthem, followed by an address from Joliet Mayor, Bob O’Dekirk, and live music from local country band “Suburban Cowboys” played for the rest of the night. Joliet city councilwoman, Jan Coleman, prefaced the night by explaining to USF’s Exploring Joliet film crew, “People come from all over the united states for this race, the first race for the Cup, and I’m so proud for the city of Joliet that we get to have the first race at Chicagoland Speedway!”
The Chicagoland Speedway is celebrating its 15th birthday this year, so fans were more than excited to come out to the Race Fan Rally to see what it was all about. Die-hard fans not only got to view the Sprint Cup inside the Rialto Square Theatre, but also had the chance to meet multiple drivers and even experience a race car simulator. NASCAR mechanics were also present at the event, as well as NASCAR haulers (a trailer that transports racing cars) and demolition derby cars and drivers.
The streets were filled with vendors of all kinds and guests saw familiar Joliet faces under the promotional tents. WCCQ radio station was represented as well as local restaurants like Juliet’s Tavern, Smokin’ Z BBQ, Gji’s Sweet Shoppe and Blue Taco.
Kids had plenty of opportunity for fun at the rally with activities such as a fast-pitch tent provided by the Joliet Slammers, bouncy houses, an appearance from Chuck E. Cheese himself and even mini race cars for kids to climb into. Tinley Park’s Family Harvest Church featured a mini “kids” car with their logo printed on the side, and congregation member Greg Mattes told the Joliet Herald, “The whole idea is that we can come out and talk with people about God. This is a different avenue to reach people.”
The event surely brought together people of all kinds, including former race car driver Merle Bettenhausen, who was doing a book signing for his family’s newest book release. Merle is the second oldest member of the Bettenhausen racing family, and lost his arm in a tragic accident in 1972 during his first Indy race ever. He explained, “[Racing] is a dangerous sport… but if anyone could ever know what the feeling is like to win a race, they’d know why we do this crazy thing.” He reminds everyone to, “Work hard, be determined, and never give up!”
The NASCAR Race Fan Rally proved to be a busy and lively night. To see exclusive interviews and extended footage of the event, click here to view Exploring Joliet’s Race Fan Rally special.