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Local News

Rally kicks off NASCAR weekend in Joliet

Fans gather downtown for festival before racing starts Thursday

Racing legend Geoff Bodine mingled with fans and visited with guys who brought their classic cars to display Wednesday at Race Fan Rally.

Bodine is retired now, but he drove in the inaugural NASCAR race at Chicagoland Speedway when it opened in 2001.

“Everyone loved the track,” Bodine said of that race.

The track was fast, and it offered something different – a straightaway that wasn’t quite straight.

“You get a lot of speed here,” Bodine said. “The good drivers like a challenge.”

Visiting with Bodine, who retired from the sport five years ago, was one of the reasons to go to Race Fan Rally.

The downtown Joliet street festival featuring cars, live music and other attractions precedes four days of racing at Chicagoland Speedway that culminates Sunday with the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Camping World 400.

“I love it,” Eric Heddins said of the rally. “Putting all these like-minded people together is great.”

Heddins, from Ashlyn Heddins Racing, named after his 14-year-old racing daughter, was promoting minicup racing, a sport of small cars for drivers as young as 8.

Not everyone at Race Fan Rally was a racing enthusiast. But it was easy to find someone who was.

Even Tommy Rucker, 5, was excited to be in downtown Joliet with race cars around him and his mother beside him.

“He loves cars and takes them apart with his dad,” said Lanette Sims of Olympia Fields. “He wants to be a mechanical engineer when he grows up.”

Hopefully, Rucker at some point in the evening met Bodine, who started racing when he was Rucker’s age but sees more young people prone to handle a keyboard than a steering wheel.

“The world’s changed. The future race fan – they’re doing this,” Bodine said, pulling out a smart phone when he was asked about the future of racing. “They’re computer geeks.”

Not everyone, though.

Jake Schoo, wearing a Plainfield South High School shirt, brought his girlfriend, Sarah Reaville, to Race Fan Rally to introduce her to his world.

“I’m from a racing family,” Schoo said. “I’ve done motocross.”

The Plainfield youths will be at the races this weekend.

“He’s been talking about it, so I’m excited,” Reaville said. “Just for the experience. I haven’t done this before.”

Brad McCarty of Channahon brought his daughter to Race Fan Rally.

“I grew up in the Darien area, and we used to go to the Santa Fe Speedway all the time,” McCarty said.

The Santa Fe Speedway is gone, so now McCarty and his family go to Route 66 Raceway for the NHRA drag races every year and to Chicagoland Speedway, “If we have the money,” he said.

They’re going this year.

“I love the atmosphere,” McCarty said. “The people are all great. Anything to do with cars I love. I love racing.”

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