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Around 40 Columbia students, staff, faculty and their guests were able to watch the Grant Park 165 NASCAR Cup Series race on Sunday, July 7, from the second and third floors of the historic 10-story building at 618 S. Michigan Ave., which houses event spaces, galleries and classrooms.

Spectators sat on benches by the windows on the third floor. Some wore headphones to muffle the loud noise of the racing cars. Spectators who wanted to be more comfortable sat on sofas around a television screen that was broadcasting the race.

The windows in building 618 faced turns 7 through 9, with the view of turn 9 partially obscured.

Columbia raffled off the spectator seats for the big race this weekend, which was interrupted due to rain. The red flag was waved on lap 26 at around 5:30 p.m. Defending champion Shane van Gisbergen crashed on lap 25 after Chase Briscoe lost control and clipped his car. SVG, as he is known, had to retire from the race.

Building 618 opened at 3 p.m. to prepare for the race, which was scheduled to start at 3:30 p.m. There was a half-hour delay due to rain and the track was slippery, with puddles in places. The drivers had completed about a third of the 75 laps after an hour and a half of racing.

The view from the second and third floors looked out over Michigan Avenue, allowing guests to see the stock cars ahead of them coming up from East Balbo Drive and turning onto East Congress Plaza Drive.

Winners of a Columbia-sponsored raffle and their guests watch the Grant Park 165 NASCAR Cup Series race from the third floor of the 618 S. Michigan building on Sunday, July 7, 2024. (Mario Jimenez)

Jake Bartecki, a sports reporter for News Channel Nebraska, attended the watch party as a guest of his mother, Holly Bartecki, a part-time public relations professor.

“The drivers are coming from one of the fastest sections of the track and driving to one of the fastest sections of the track,” Jake said. “I think you see more of the track and more of the action.”

Billy Fidanovski, a Boystown resident and customer success manager at Getty Images, was Hawk’s guest at the party. He watched the race last year near the track. “I can watch it from a better angle than at the track and I’m inside, so I don’t have to worry if it rains,” Fidanovski said.

It rained briefly during the race, but the guests at the watch party did not have to worry about getting soaked.

Holly Bartecki ran the race last year. “We were ankle-deep in mud, pouring rain, freezing cold, sweltering hot – all at once, and I thought, ‘Never again,'” she said.

The first weekend of racing was marred by rain and inclement weather on both days, including the second day and the Cup Series main race.

When Holly Bartecki saw the raffle, she decided to try again.

This was the second year the college hosted a watch party for NASCAR.

“Let’s see if we can get the fourth floor next year,” said Fidanovski.

During the race, he followed the cars speeding by, turning his head from right to left, chatting with Mark Hawk, a final-year photography student, and taking a few cool dance breaks when the music outside was loud enough to hear.

The possibility of this party also sparked interest in Columbia allowing students access to the buildings during other events.

“They should do it for more,” Hawk said. “For everything that’s happening here… There’s always students going to Lollapalooza and stuff, you might as well have a safe place for them.”

He added: “Especially when buildings are lost and sold, they are simply given a higher value.”

Despite some criticisms, the participants of the watch party were excited that the school had something like this to offer.

Yolanda Joe attended the Watch Party as a guest of a faculty friend. Joe left her position as a broadcast journalism faculty member at Columbia in 2019 to become press secretary to the city treasurer. She most recently served as communications director for the Illinois Lieutenant Governor, but is now retired and returning to creative writing.

“I thought it was great that Columbia took the opportunity to make it available to staff and faculty and their friends because it’s just a great way to say thank you and let them be a part of a great event in Chicago,” she said.

Edited by Trinity Balboa