Fans hope IndyCar returns to Pocono Raceway in Long Pond

By John Erzar jerzar@civitasmedia.com

July 7, 2014

LONG POND — As the IndyCar crews loaded up the haulers late Sunday afternoon at Pocono Raceway, the big question was whether they would be unloading them next year at the track.

Track CEO and President Brandon Igdalsky told the Associated Press on Thursday that advanced ticket sales for the Pocono IndyCar 500 “were kind of scary” based on last year’s numbers. The story estimated last year’s crowd between 30,000 and 35,000. A story from another media outlet had the 2013 estimate at 25,000.

Igdalsky went on to say he would meet with IndyCar officials about opting out the final year of a three-year contract with the open-wheel series. That left some of the few fans remaining in the infield after Sunday’s race wondering what’s in store for 2015.

One group — Friends of Boy Scout Troop 174 of Dingmans Ferry — donates its time at the track helping other fans. In return, the raceway makes a donation to the troop.

“They were saying in that article there were 25,000 people,” said Kevin Scalley, of Dingmans Ferry. “It was at least 35 or more. And I think there was more this year than there was last year because we had some NASCAR fans come this time.”

Pocono Raceway doesn’t release attendance figures, so there is no way of knowing whether Sunday’s crowd was on par with the 2013 crowd, which was there to see open-wheel racing at the track for the first time in 24 years. No one expects IndyCar racing at Pocono to draw fans like the two NASCAR Sprint Cup races there — both often with estimated attendance of 100,000.

“The NASCAR fans, they’re all nuts,” said Jerry Vaivada of Dingmans Ferry, who was also there as part of the boy scout volunteer group. “They buy their tickets a year in advance. These guys, it seemed they just show up because this morning there was a big influx right before the race.”

A few theories were bandied about concerning advanced ticket sales for the race.

• Fourth Of July: Unlike last year, the holiday fell on a Friday, creating a three-day weekend. Pocono Raceway has NASCAR races in June and August, so there isn’t a lot of wiggle room. However, IndyCar has an open weekend at the end of July and could shuffle its 2015 schedule to move the Pocono race back a week.

“If they can change the week instead of the Fourth of July,” said Frank Sink, of Bushkill. “I think that is a big deterrent to keeping people away. It’s like NASCAR. Fontana used to have Labor Day weekend for the NASCAR race. In California, I used to live there, you go to the Colorado River or you go to the beach. You’re not going to a race on Labor Day weekend.

“I think the same applies here.”

• Newness: While NASCAR has run at Pocono since 1971, open-wheel racing returned to Pocono in 2013 for the first time in 24 years. Prior to last year’s race, the last IndyCar event in the region was in 2004 at the now-shuttered Nazareth Speedway.

“You’re pulling from the New York and Philly metropolitan regions,” said Joe Puglisi, of Dingmans Ferry. “I think to do it for two years and make a decision based on that is flawed. You need to get the word out there. If NASCAR people wake up and it’s a nice day, they’re going to go. Whereas, IndyCar is more about the cars, the drivers, the race.

“Eventually, when we reach New York and Philly, all those fans there are going to say `Where else can we go and see IndyCars race around a track and watch them the entire way within a 90-minute drive?’ A lot of times, they have to go to Baltimore and watch them through the streets (course) and that’s it.”

• Weekend schedule: The three-day NASCAR weekend from Aug. 1-3 has Sprint Cup practice and qualifying, truck series practice and ARCA qualifying and racing on Friday. Saturday had more Sprint Cup practice along with truck series qualifying and racing. And, of course, Sunday is the Sprint Cup race.

This past weekend, there was no IndyCar on-track activity on Friday. On Saturday, the gap between the final IndyCar practice and qualifying was over two hours, with only a quick 40-lap Indy Lights race in between. Only eight drivers participated in the Indy Lights race.

A couple fans said moving the ARCA race from August to the Saturday of the IndyCar weekend could beef up interest. ARCA, which isn’t affiliated with NASCAR, has been a support race for IndyCar at other tracks.

“It’s been only the second year for it,” said Mike Haskins, of Westville, New Jersey. “Last year was the inaugural and, obviously, that generated interest. People wanted to see IndyCars here because they came back. We’ve been coming here since the 80s as fans, and the initial race was well attended because of the interest.”

Regardless of what is Pocono’s ultimate decision, the IndyCar teams would like to return next year.

“I love this place and would love to come back here next year,” third-place finisher Carlos Munoz said, “and for sure I think we are coming back here.”

“I mean, I don’t understand what these rumors (are) regarding not coming back here,” second-place finisher Helio Castroneves said, “because I feel that everybody enjoys it, everybody had fun, and hopefully we’ll continue to come back.”