A day at the races

South suburban focusParents ... start your engines.

There’s nothing like NASCAR to get hearts racing. The roar of the engines, the rainbow of orange, blue and green blurs streaking around the curve. Fans, walking advertisements for their favorite drivers, debating who will beat out whom this year. Outside the grandstands, beyond the food vendors and ticket booths stand row after row of colorful trailers, mini race shops offering the newest Tony Stewart T-shirt, Jeff Gordon hat or Dale Earnhardt Jr. paraphernalia.

“Kids love races,” says Matthew Alexander, president of Chicagoland Speedway and Route 66 Raceway in Joliet."They love to see all of the colorful cars and the excitement of the grounds. It is a real Super Bowl atmosphere.”

So, grab the kids and head straight for Chicagoland Speedway for a day at the races—or at least on July 13 for Pole Day. My husband and I take our four kids every year.

Pole Day is a great way for your kids to sample what going to the races is all about. It is a day of practice and qualifying runs for the USAC Silver Crown Series and the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, as well as the USG FIBEROCK 100 USAC Silver CrownSeries race. All the big name drivers are there, giving your kids a chance to see their favorites in action.

Best of all, kids 12 and under are free and adult tickets are only $15. Normally a Track Pack can cost anywhere from $195 to $260 a person, depending on where you want to sit. Pole Day is especially ideal if your kids are young since the magic of racing often wears off long before the drivers cross the finish line.

“Pole Day is totally kid friendly,” says Jillian Fredericks of Plainfield. The sponsors set up tents with games and freebies for the kids and the merchandise is reasonably priced, she says."My kids come home with bags full and they love it.”

Fredericks, an Earnhardt Jr. fan, has been going to the races with her husband Mike for nine years. Her oldest daughter, now 4, attended her first raceway event (at Pole Day) when only 1 month old.

Before you leave, grab a cooler full of food. We have found that one of the best parts of going to the speedway is the tailgating, which is not only allowed but encouraged. Rows and rows of canopy tents, grills and large coolers flood the parking lot. Flags celebrating favorite drivers are often hung in friendly competition with neighboring cars. Families go back and forth from grandstands to parking lot to eat lunch or just take a break and let the kids run around.

Fredericks says when they go, the men head out first, as early as 6 a.m. to fight the crowds, stake claims to their parking spots and"set up camp.” They save a few spots next to them so that when the wives and kids (who are in a much better mood because they got to sleep in) show up.

As your kids graduate from Pole Day to wanting to see a real race, Fredericks suggests taking them to see the Saturday Bush race."It isn’t as big as the NEXTEL Cup, but it is a lot of fun.”

Upcoming Route 66 Raceway events 

Route 66 Raceway is the sister track to the Chicagoland Speedway. Here are just a few upcoming must-see events for your kids. For more, go to www.chicagolandspeedway.com.

June 30– Jr. Dragster Event. Watch aspiring Midwest drivers as young as 8 driving half-scale dragsters that can reach speeds up to 85 mph. They will compete for everything from saving bonds and trophies to a chance to compete for college scholarships in the Eastern conference finals. Event is free.

June 30– Team Demolition Derby. Expect 50 mph head-on collisions, heavy swipes and cars totaled after just one hit. Advanced ticket prices: $16 adults/$11 juniors (kids 12 and under). Prices at the gate: $20 adults/$15 juniors.

Oct. 6– Monster Mash. Avenger, Brutus, Sudden Impact and T-MAXX are just a few of the Monster Trucks scheduled to appear at Route 66 Raceway’s half-mile dirt oval track. Two trucks will face off at a time for head-to-head competition in challenges that become more extreme after each round. Advanced ticket prices: $16 adults/$6 juniors. Prices at the gate: $20 adult/$10 juniors.

Jean Dunning covers the South and Southwest suburbs of Chicago for Chicago Parent. If you have story ideas or would like to be a part of the South/Southwest Parent Source e-mail list, e-mail storiesbyjd@sbcglobal.net.

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