Mario Andretti excited Indy-style racing is back at Pocono

Posted: July 03, 2014

WITH THE enthusiasm Mario Andretti displays for the return of Indy cars to Pocono Raceway, you almost expect to see him standing near the tunnel entrance welcoming fans.

Andretti, the racing legend from Nazareth, Pa., was overjoyed that Indy cars were back at Pocono last year for the first time since 1989. Now, with Sunday's Pocono IndyCar 500 approaching at about 220 mph, Andretti's excitement is revved up even more.

His fond memories of the 2.5-mile trioval aren't only because he raced there in the 1970s and 80s (he won in 1986) and the track is only 35 miles from his home. Andretti has a family interest in the current Verizon IndyCar series: His grandson Marco drives for his son Michael, a former IndyCar racer (42 wins).

"It's my favorite superspeedway, because of the character of the track," Andretti said in a recent interview. "The track was built for Indy cars. It's probably the most fan-friendly track."

Referring to Brandon and Nick Igdalsky, who now run the Pocono complex, Andretti said, "The Igdalskys have come on the scene, and the entire Mattioli group has embraced Indy cars again."

The Igdalskys are trying to make racing at Pocono appealing to younger fans with reasonable ticket prices. Many teenage fans were present in the garage area before last year's race.

"Since we've been there," Andretti said, "almost another generation has [grown up]. Youngsters love speed, and speed is visible there."

Speed has always been visible in Indy-style racing. Fifty years ago, when Andretti was just moving into big-time open-wheel racing, the cars were generating "wows!" by topping 155 mph at Indianapolis.

In his excellent new book, "Black Noon," author Art Garner recreates the steps leading to the 1964 Indy 500 remembered most for the tragic deaths of Eddie Sachs and Dave McDonald in a fiery crash only two laps into the race. The popular Sachs, known as "The Clown Prince of Racing," was from Bethlehem, Pa., near Nazareth.

McDonald, a young Californian in his first Indy 500, drove a Mickey Thompson-prepared car that was difficult to handle. Andretti, then 24, had made a name for himself in sprint-car racing. He was scheduled to test a Thompson car before Indy, but instead he heeded the advice of veteran mechanic Clint Brawner, who told him he was not ready for Indy. Brawner promised Andretti an Indy car ride later on.

"What he said resounded in my head," Andretti said. "It's one of the best decisions I ever made. That could've been me [in the crash]."

Andretti and his wife Dee Ann attended the race, won by A.J. Foyt. If two racers died in a race today and the race were restarted, you could hear the howls from Nazareth to New Mexico. Andretti doesn't agree with those who think races should be canceled or postponed under such tragic circumstances.

"There was a different mindset back then," he said. "God forbid, there is a fatality, but why stop when you're going to race again next week? Deal with it and move on.

"As a driver, you know there is risk. If there's no risk, maybe there's no fascination [with racing]."

Sounds harsh, but that's a racer's mentality.

Andretti first met Sachs at Trenton Speedway in 1957.

"I was only in the country 2 years," Andretti recalled. "Eddie had raced at Monza [Italy] and gone very fast. I walked up to him, shaking. He was very kind. He listened to what I had to say. I never forgot that."

Kentucky crowd down

As the NASCAR speedsters head to Daytona for Saturday night's annual summer race, one final check of the latest Kentucky race in the rearview mirror:

* The poor attendance for the Saturday night's race, won by Brad Keselowski, was shocking. The grandstands appeared less than half full. Don't be surprised if track owner Bruton Smith decides to move his Kentucky date to his Las Vegas Speedway for a second race at the desert track.

* Another TNT telecast was marred by audio problems: For what seemed like minutes the audio kept repeating. If TNT cannot fix the problem, viewers will be happy to see the network in their rearview mirrors. TNT has only two races left in its summer session.

* I don't have a problem with Keselowski dominating the race, leading 199 of 267 laps. But when there are only two other leaders in the race, it's a drama downer.

IndyCar racing

Pocono IndyCar 500 Fueled by Sunoco

Pocono Raceway, Long Pond, Pa.

When: Sunday, noon

TV: NBC Sports

Race course: 2.5-mile trioval

Distance: 200 laps/500 miles

Forecast: sunny, upper 70s

Last year’s winner: Scott Dixon

Last year’s pole: Marco Andretti, 221.272 mph (track qualifying record)

Track facts: Scott Dixon led the 28 laps (38 total) to give Ganassi Racing a 1-2-3 finish. Charlie Kimball was second, Dario Franchitti was third. Polesitter Marco Andretti led the most laps (88), but had fuel-mileage issues and finished 10th ... Last weekend’s doubleheader in Houston provided big days for smaller-funded teams: Carlos Huertas, driving for Dale Coyne Racing, won Saturday’s race. Simon Pagenaud and Mikhail Aleshin, driving for Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Racing, finished 1-2 Sunday ... Pocono is the second 500-mile race in the Verizon IndyCar Triple Crown: Ryan Hunter-Reay won the Indianapolis 500. The third 500-miler is the season finale Aug. 30 at Fontana, Calif.

Wins: Will Power, Hunter Reay, Simon Pagenaud, 2 each; Helio Castroneves, Carlos Huertas, Mike Conway, Ed Carpenter, 1 each.

STANDINGS

Will Power 405

Helio Castroneves 366

Ryan Hunter-Reay 364

Simon Pagenaud 346

Juan Pablo Montoya 289

Marco Andretti 281

Carlos Munoz 270

Up next: Iowa Corn Indy 300, July 12, Iowa Speedway, Newton, Iowa, 8 p.m.; TV: NBC Sports.

NASCAR Sprint Cup race

Coke Zero 400

Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, Fla.

When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: TNT/WNPV (1440-AM)

Course: 2.5-mile oval

Distance: 160 laps/400 miles

Forecast: scattered thunderstorms, mid-80s

Last year’s winner: Jimmie Johnson

Last year’s pole: Kyle Busch, 193.723 mph

Track qualifying record: with restrictor plates, Geoffrey Bodine, 197.478 mph (November 1997); without plates, Bill Elliott, 210.364 mph (February 1987)

Track facts: In last year’s race, Jimmie Johnson led four times for 94 laps, including the last 31, to win. Tony Stewart was second; Kevin Harvick was third ... Johnson swept last year’s races at Daytona. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won this year’s Daytona 500 ... Several top drivers need a win in the remaining nine races before the Chase begins to assure themselves of being Chasers, including Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle ... Newman’s third-place finish Saturday night at Kentucky was his season best ... Kahne has finished fifth, sixth and eighth in his last three races; he is 15th in points.

Wins: Jimmie Johnson, 3; Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski, 2 each; Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, 1 each.

STANDINGS

1. Jeff Gordon 618

2. Jimmie Johnson 594

3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 594

4. Brad Keselowski 560

5. Matt Kenseth 555

6. Carl Edwards 536

7. Joey Logano 519

8. Ryan Newman 514

9. Kevin Harvick 509

10. Kyle Busch 508

11. Paul Menard 488

12. Kyle Larson 474

13. Greg Biffle 474

14. Clint Bowyer 473

15. Kasey Kahne 465

16. Tony Stewart 460

Up next: Camping World RV Sales 301, July 13, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Loudon, N.H., 1 p.m.; TV: TNT; last year’s winner: Brian Vickers.


Email: fleiscb@phillynews.com

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