Pocono Preview

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Those that have said they want to attend a Verizon IndyCar Series race at Pocono Raceway sometime, should probably head there this weekend. Conventional wisdom says that this could very well be the final year that the series will be there for quite a long period of time.

I would say that’s a shame, but I’m part of the problem. Since the Indy cars returned to Pocono in 2013 after a twenty-four year absence – I’ve been saying I want to work in a trip to the Northeast where I can also take in a race at an historic venue. Three years later, those plans have failed to materialize. Like most, I’ll be watching Sunday’s race at Pocono from my couch instead of sitting in the stands.

If I need an excuse, I live 850 miles from Long Pond, Pennsylvania. Those that should feel a little more guilty are those IndyCar fans that live in the New York City/Philadelphia area. Those two metropolitan areas account for over twenty-five million people. Surely there are enough IndyCar fans among that many people to make the two-hour trip to Pocono Raceway to at least make a dent in filling the 76,000 seats along the mammoth main straightaway.

To say attendance has been abysmal at the previous two IndyCar races is almost an understatement. Last year’s race appeared to have more support people milling around behind the pits than there were in the stands.

It’s unfortunate that the first two races that Indy cars ran since 1989, were held over the Fourth of July weekend. Watkins Glen proved earlier that the Independence Day weekend is a crowd killer. Personally, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the Fourth of July, but apparently not everyone agrees with me.

This year, the race was moved toward the end of the season to help bolster attendance. From what we are hearing about ticket sales, it doesn’t sound like the change has worked. We could make an argument about date equity and how the date would need to stay in this new slot for several years and allowing it to grow, but track owners aren’t willing to wait. They operate on such thin margins that they need to turn a profit quickly and can’t afford the luxury of growing an event over time. That’s why I’m sadly predicting that this will be IndyCar’s last visit to the Poconos for a while.

The sad thing is; I think over time it could grow into a good event. Although neither of the two previous races thus far have been as riveting as the last race at Fontana – I’ve enjoyed them. The track is very unique and sits in a picturesque setting. From what I hear, the facility is in the middle of nowhere – but that’s the Poconos. I’m not far from the Great Smoky Mountains which are also in the middle of nowhere. That’s the charm of going to the mountains. If you’re looking for nightlife or five-star restaurants during the race weekend – go to New York!

The unique layout of the “Tricky Triangle” is part of the allure of Pocono. Each of the three turns is different and is fashioned after turns at other famous tracks. Turn One, with its 14-degree banking, mimics Trenton Speedway, which closed in 1980. Turn Two, sometimes known as the Tunnel Turn, was modeled after Turn One at Indianapolis. Turn Three, with its almost flat banking, is very similar to Milwaukee. Although it is most certainly a two and a half mile oval, many say that it drives more like a road course.

Open-wheel racing has a long history at Pocono. From the time the track opened in 1971, USAC and then CART held races there from 1971 through 1989. Drivers like Mark Donohue, AJ Foyt, Johnny Rutherford, Al Unser, Bobby Unser, Rick Mears and Mario Andretti are just a few of the iconic names that have visited victory lane at Pocono. The Verizon IndyCar Series returned in 2013, with Scott Dixon winning that year and Juan Montoya taking the checkered flag last season. Unless attendance increases dramatically from last year, this could be the end of their short-lived return.

The points race has really heated up. Honda has performed better on ovals than road courses. Graham Rahal currently sits in second place, just nine points behind points leader Juan Montoya. He has already said he considers Pocono to be more pivotal than Sonoma. I’m not sure I follow his thinking, since Sonoma pays double-points – but he has to do well at Pocono before having a shot at Sonoma. Perhaps he’s thinking he needs to win Pocono and hang on for a good finish at Sonoma; since Sonoma plays more into Chevy’s hand than Pocono.

The weather forecast for Sunday is iffy. That could hamper attendance, but increase performance if it is cool but doesn’t rain. The weather will just be another factor in a weekend filled with storylines. So who is going to win on Sunday? I’m going with the driver with the hot hand. My prediction is that Graham Rahal will win the race, with Scott Dixon on the podium. Juan Montoya will have a rough afternoon and be overtaken by Rahal in the championship. But next weekend, Rahal will struggle at Sonoma and Scott Dixon will jump in and steal the championship, while Montoya falls to fourth behind Rahal and Helio Castroneves in the final standings. We’ll see how it plays out.

George Phillips

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17 Responses to “Pocono Preview”

  1. This is another one of those cases where those that whine incessantly regarding the dearth of oval races once again failed to put their money where their collective mouths were.
    For year after year I attended both the St Pete and Homestead races, watching attendance steadily dwindle at Homestead until it’s demise. While the St Pete race consistently drew larger and larger crowds.
    I would really love to come up for the ABC500, but recent back surgery says that’s not happening. I just hope this is not the last time we ever get the chance to see an IC race there.

  2. Its 10 hours for me from Louisville. I have seriously considered going. I have never been. Would a 3 year old enjoy a 10 hour drive? Sadly, I’m thinking this could be my last chance to see IndyCar at an historic track as was the case with Milwaukee. I am glad I made it to Wisconsin to see The Mile.

    Man this is getting old, hearing about attendance projections for these ovals. I agree with Ken above- I am overtired of hearing the traditionalists complain about disappearing ovals and yet, race after race attendance declines. Could anything be as bad as Fontana was this year? Well, tune in folks you might see it at Pocono. Like George said; there are some massive population areas surrounding Pocono. There is no reason it should not attract a bigger audience.

    What’s even more maddening is how NASCAR can fill these venues and IndyCar cannot with IndyCar being such a better product.

    • The racing isn’t what NASCAR is selling, it’s their U.S. STARS. The competition is secondary to their personalities, something IndyCar forgot about back when Penske, Haas and Patrick decided to eliminate danger and wrecked cars and brought in all the “road course specialists” to drive on all of their boring road courses. It’s really as simple an explanation as that. Oh, and NASCAR has 34 out of 36 races on ovals every year, that helps too!

  3. Well, I’m in the Philly metro area, and will be attending for the first time this weekend. I was on the fence all season until Fontana: bought 3 tickets the next day, including one for a very stoked 10 year old. Now, I have no illusions that we will get the excitement of Fontana, but I needed to put money where my mouth is, so to speak, and get out there to support the series. I hope many others do the same!

  4. billytheskink Says:

    I’d like to complain about the people who complain about the people who complain about Indycar’s lack of ovals.

    Heh, not really, I appreciate the passion that drives and the discussion that comes from both sets of complaints. I do want to point out, though, that Indycar has attendance woes at both ovals and road/street courses alike. Ovals receive an outsized share of the attendance hand-wringing for a variety of reasons, but I think that they really highlight that there presently are not enough of us fans to make ANY Indycar race work without other elements of a strong event in place (major sponsorship, date equity, tradition, local car culture, support races, other draws). I do not agree with the rhetoric of “put your money where your mouth is” in this case because I think most of the schedule complainers do their part as fans and buy tickets to races that they can reasonably be expected to attend. Again, there just aren’t enough of us right now, and I’ll need to get more bandwidth if we get into discussing why.

    Here’s hoping for good weather, good racing, and relatively good attendance on Sunday. For my own sake, I hope Indycar retains as many oval races as possible. For their sake, they need to retain races of any type.

  5. I can’t make the trip, but if I lived in the vicinity I would be there all weekend. With that said, I do like this track and I hope it stays with us.

    My prediction is that Rahal beats Montoya.

  6. Sentiment aside, if it’s not profitable then you drop it. Just like Fontana. Despite all the “if’s and but’s” it’s just not working. It’s survival of the fittest and right now only Indy and Iowa are healthy.

    • Brian McKay Says:

      Whenever something (a race car, a pet, a tool) isn’t “healthy” and “working” well, don’t try to fix it. Just kill it. When a business (race team, race event, or race series) isn’t “healthy,” just kill it. Don’t try to fix it.

      • Perhaps just a bit harsh today Brian? My dog has Lyme disease. Should I kill him or treat him? If a certain Chevy model is not selling, should they come out with a different, more attractive model, offer more incentives, or kill the dealerships?

        • Br!an McKay Says:

          That was my sarcastic answer to someone who’d written that only IMS and Iowa races are healthy and Pocono race should be eliminated.

  7. I can get my wife to go to Long Beach, New Orleans, and Tampa… But the Pocono Mountains? Not the Metropolitan Woman I married.

    TK wins. Dixon 2nd.

    • Brian McKay Says:

      I wouldn’t be surprised to see those Chevy-propelled wily veterans finish first and second.
      I would love to see Justin Wilson first, second, or third.

  8. Wild cards: Marco, RHR, Bourdais, and Newgarden. Wild car: Sato

    Wild idea: Get Trump to come to each race and give him a
    microphone. That should fill the seats.

    Wildly bad idea: Asking him to drive the Indy500 pace car a few
    years ago. His hair would have flown onto the track
    and caused a yellow for debris before the race or
    caused him to run into the scorer’s stand (for Indy
    history buffs)

    Disclaimer: No political statement expressed or implied herein.

  9. They have none been mentioned much here, but I imagine that Ed Carpenter will be highly motivated for this race. Sage Karam will be near his hometown, so he may drive a little, let’s just say, beyond his current talent level.

    • Brian McKay Says:

      Karam claimed that it is ‘just another race.’ But like you, I surmise that in his ‘home track,’ near this season’s end, Karam wants to place very well to cement his place in Ganassi Racing.

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