NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski roared up to Elk Grove High School on Monday in his No. 6 Ford Mustang, spinning the car in a tight circle to announce his arrival.
Keselowski, a former NASCAR Cup Series champion, will race on the streets of Chicago next year, under the sponsorship of Elk Grove Village. The Chicago Street Course NASCAR race, set for July 2, will bring stock car racing to a 2.2-mile course on Michigan Avenue, DuSable Lake Shore Drive and around Grant Park, with the start and finish line at Buckingham Fountain.
The village will spend $400,000 a year for at least two years to get its “Makers Wanted” logo emblazoned across the car to promote what officials say is the largest contiguous business park in the country.
Previously, the village sponsored the NCAA football Bahamas Bowl, and the U.S. Olympics track and field and wrestling teams. This time, Mayor Craig Johnson said, he wanted to get involved with the sport that reportedly draws the most in-person spectators, at some 75 million people a year.
Johnson said the “outside of the box” promotions were worthwhile investments to bring attention to the 5-square-mile industrial park with some 3,600 businesses next to O’Hare International Airport.
Keselowski, 38, won the NASCAR Cup Series in 2012 with Team Penske, which he left to become part owner of the Roush Fenway Keselowski team, or RFK Racing. And since Keselowski also owns a 3D printing company in Statesville, North Carolina, his experience and advocacy for manufacturing makes the partnership a good fit, Johnson said.
As a sign that past promotions worked, Johnson said the business park has a vacancy rate of 1%. A Love’s Fueling Station opened in the village, he said, after an executive heard of the village through the Bahama Bowl. While auto racing is not as big in the Midwest as it is in the South, the mayor said, the NASCAR race will raise its profile.
“With the race being right next door in Chicago … we want to make sure we’re a part of it,” the mayor said. “It’s going to bring a lot of publicity.”
“We’re super-pumped this partnership came together,” Keselowski said. “It’s not just a sponsorship or a partnership; it’s something that we really live and breathe with our commitment to manufacturing. … It’s so important, not just to our economy and to our kids, but to our nation and security.”
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The cost of the promotion, like the other sponsorships, is to be paid out of a business park Tax Increment Financing fund. Under the TIF, any increases in property tax revenues are used to pay for improvements to the business park, rather than going to other taxing bodies such as school districts.
But Johnson said the village also would make a $750,000 investment in building an industrial kitchen for culinary studies at the high school.
The mayor and Keselowski toured the school’s manufacturing lab, which featured computer numeric controlled production. Students there were working on a car to enter in a racing competition to see who could go the farthest on a single gallon of gas.
The school also was host Monday to the village’s manufacturing and technology exhibition, with several dozen business people gathering to attract investment and workers.
Brian O’Rourke, vice president and COO of Broetje Automation, which was the first tenant in the village’s technology park, and makes automated machinery and robotics for aerospace.
“The toughest challenge that I have right now is finding skilled people,” O’Rourke said. “So if (the car sponsorship) gets the name out there and gets people thinking about us … then I’m all for it.”