Pocono Returns For The Long-Haul
The Verizon IndyCar Series retuned to Pocono in 2013 for the first time since CART last raced there in 1989. Since their much-anticipated return in 2013, the crowds have been less than stellar and there has been speculation that each year might be the last at The Tricky Triangle. Quite honestly, that was my motivation for making pans to attend the race there this weekend – because I strongly suspected that this might be my last chance to see IndyCars race there.
Fortunately, I was wrong (as usual). Not only will the series be there this weekend for a fourth straight race in as many years; but it was announced last Wednesday that IndyCar and Pocono Raceway had signed a two-year extension – guaranteeing that the series would race there through the 2018 season.
This is big for a lot of reasons. When it was all but announced that the oval at Gateway Motorsports Park would be added to the 2017 schedule, many (myself included) speculated that it might be in place of Pocono since it is rumored to be run in August. The crowds at Pocono had not been good and many thought that Pocono’s removal from the schedule would be announced shortly after the completion of this weekend’s race. Now that we know that there will be at least two more races at Pocono after this weekend, this allows so many things to fall into place.
First and foremost, fans know it will be back and can make long-term plans – especially if the build some date equity around the third weekend in August each year. While Pocono Raceway is situated in a remote area in Pennsylvania, it is roughly a two-hour drive from New York City and Philadelphia – the largest and fifth largest cities in the US, respectively. With proper marketing, there is no reason why the IndyCar races at Pocono should play to such sparse grandstands, being that close to so many millions of people.
While the Northeast is not considered the epicenter of the racing world, there have to be more than fifty thousand fans in those two markets that are willing to make a two-hour drive if they are enticed properly.
Now that IndyCar and Pocono Raceway know that they have two more years, each entity can feel a little more comfortable in making a more long-term investment in promoting their races properly. Having Watkins Glen just a couple of weeks afterwards may not be as much as a negative as people think. Folks in western New York and eastern Pennsylvania can take in two entirely different forms of racing just two weekends apart at tracks only three hours apart. If packaged properly, each event could feed off of the other.
Here’s some obscure trivia for you. Without looking, which is further east – Watkins Glen or Pocono? I was surprised to learn that it’s Pocono. Then again, I don’t live in the Northeast and haven’t spent a ton of time in western New York, except for spending a few weeks in Buffalo for work about twenty years ago. But I digress…
This helps with team and series sponsorships, also. It helps when potential sponsors know where races will be taking place a couple of years out. We are now in the time of year when most teams should be solidifying their sponsorship packages for next year. Granted, some of the deals don’t come together until the last minute in the spring – but in an ideal world, many of the deals are made in and around the month of August. If a team can tell a sponsor that they know for certain that they will be racing within a two-hour drive from New York City and Philadelphia – that can carry some weight in the decision-making process.
More than anyone else, I suspect Jay Frye, IndyCar President of Competition and Operations, made this happen. We already know that he was responsible for getting Phoenix back on the schedule this year, and he pulled off a miracle in signing an agreement with Watkins Glen on a moment’s notice after the Boston debacle. I don’ know this, but I also suspect he is behind the push to solidify the 2017 and 2018 schedules before the current season is over.
With his previous motorsports background, Frye knows the importance of date equity and getting long-term deals set in stone for the benefit of fans, tracks, teams and sponsors. Motorsports is a different animal than tennis, and perhaps CEO Mark Miles has realized what a secret weapon he has in Jay Frye and has finally decided to utilize his talents and experience properly.
So, yes – there was some good news in the racing world last week. I think that Pocono is only the first track to solidify it’s place on the 2018 schedule. I look forward to more pleasant surprises for the schedule in the coming weeks.