This past weekend at the Pocono Raceway was one real racing fans waited a long time to see. It is difficult to put into words how refreshing it is to visit a fan friendly track that is happy to see fans, opens its gates with enthusiasm and is not owned by someone named either France or Smith. The renaissance of that legendary track is very impressive. The Mattioli family has made their track one of the best venues on the circuit. The guy who runs the show these days, Brandon Idalsky, has been quite enthusiastic about the return of Indy Cars for the first time in 24 years, and the crowd that showed up on the 4th of July weekend exceeded expectations.
As someone who visited the track for the first time ever I was impressed with its size, ease of parking, accessibility, friendliness, cleanliness and racing. It has some quirks not seen at other tracks. The Churchill Downs-style grandstand spires were unique…and restroom attendants in the bathrooms? At a race track? They do keep them clean though, except for perhaps the floor on which the liquid that gets stepped in is probably not just mere water. There are still visible parts of the facility that are vintage 1971, and that is cool to a history buff like me.
The return of this track after 24 years of idle is something many thought would never happen. When the mutinous dissidents of cart came into being in 1979 the next ten years were spent boycotting, filing lawsuits and alienating the Mattioli family completely until they basically got thrown out after the 1989 event. Given that sort of arrogance was typical throughout the existence of that group and the fact that many of them are still around in IndyCar of today it remains difficult to fathom any agreement was reached. Only after Doc died did some of the frost evaporate. For 24 years the disdain of the Mattiolis toward IndyCar was palpable and unfortunate. Then came the 4th of July weekend in 2013.
The weekend was spectacular. My party and I were there both Saturday and Sunday. The condition and layout of the track should have led to the quality of racing we saw at Indy, but IndyCar micromanagement of the package made it turn out more like Texas. There were moments, however. Marco proved his ‘Andretti-ness’ again. The Chevys blew away the Hondas in speed but not in gas mileage. As an Andretti Marco assumed his place at the front, and fast, for most of the race but used up all the fuel and HAD to slow down at the end. The tortoise and hare approach worked well for Honda. We were looking for great things from Takuma Sato in the race but his brain faded in the second round of pit stops.
It appears very tricky to get from speed in turn 3 into the pits at 60mph without luck, skill or prayer. The champion Hunter-Reay seemed to take a slower entrance on the left hand side. During the second round RHR was in that left lane entering a bit slowly, talking on his radio and generally bitching about the way his car was driving (while he was in second place). Meanwhile, Sato was dive bombing the pits kamikaze style and it became clear he would not be down to 60 by the time the cones appeared, which were well inside the pit. Hunter-Reay moved to the right and Sato was already leaving a trail of tire smoke and flattened rubber when the inevitable occurred. Neither did themselves any favors with regard to points.
In the end, Ganassi swept the podium for the first time ever and picked up the trophy. Other observations:
-24 IndyCars looked sparse. Let’s make this a 500 mile race (as it should have been anyway) and figure out a way to run at least 30 cars.
-The race track is a thing of beauty. Everything is nice and wide, and the improvements made over the past few years have enhanced the facility greatly.
–I like the corner configurations a lot better than I thought I would.
-Leaving the track is a large pain in the backside. Between youthful cops with bad attitudes, really counterintuitive stop lights away from the track and generally heavy Pocono area traffic returning to civilization after recreational weekends. But that is not the fault of the track.
My post-weekend thoughts? Nothing but heartfelt thanks to the folks at Pocono for welcoming back the dysfunctional IndyCar family and fans. We had a spectacular time and will be back next year and all future years IndyCars run there.