Future of Pocono IndyCar race in jeopardy

Posted: July 07, 2014

LONG POND, Pa. - Brandon Igdalsky is wondering just how committed IndyCar racing fans are.

When Pocono Raceway announced IndyCar racing would return to the track last year for the first time since 1989 the track president and CEO said "excitement was through the roof." Attendance for last year's race won by Scott Dixon was respectable, around 25,000.

Expectations were fans who enjoyed the 220-mph open-wheel racing would return and likely bring more fans. Instead, Igdalsky said yesterday ticket sales for tomorrow's Pocono IndyCar 500 are "down quite a bit."

"Fans need to put their money where the mouth is," he said. "We don't want IndyCar to go away. The on-track product is phenomenal. The drivers love coming here to race."

Igdalsky earlier told the Associated Press that Pocono officials will decide after tomorrow's race whether the Verizon IndyCar series will return next year. Pocono's contract with the IndyCar series is for 3 years, but the track can opt out of the final year.

Standing in a light drizzle near the entrance to the garage area, Igdalsky said he doesn't believe the problem is that fans are reluctant to travel on Fourth of July weekend.

"They're already here," he said. "Tens of thousands of people are here. The Poconos are the No. 2 destination in Pennsylvania, behind only Philadelphia."

Still, fans who aren't already in the Poconos might not want to risk encountering traffic delays.

Traffic jams after last year's race might discourage fans from returning for a race on a holiday weekend. Igdalsky said last year's traffic issues have been resolved. He urges fans to take main roads into the track, off Route 115, south of Interstate 80.

"GPS is telling people to get off I-380 and take Long Pond Road [to the track]," he said. "That's not the best way in. When you come in on a road that's one lane [each way], you're going to sit in traffic. PennDOT and all the message boards tell them to get off at 115."

Igdalsky said he thinks ticket prices are attractive for the IndyCar race: They start at $25, with reduced-rate tickets for children.

Pocono's IndyCar race is between the track's traditional NASCAR races in early June and early August. Too much racing for fans to afford?

"They're different fans," Igdalsky said. "Seventy percent of the fans that come for IndyCar don't come for NASCAR races."

Igdalsky's brother, Nick, the track executive vice president and chief operating officer, said more than half of those buying tickets for tomorrow's race are "brand-new to Pocono."

"Corporate numbers [for the race] are up; it's the grandstand numbers [that are a problem].

"It's a call to arms for all open-wheel fans: Don't take [the race] for granted. It's here; don't let it go away again."

Indy 500 winner busy

Win the Indianapolis 500 and a racer is always known as an Indy 500 champion. Ryan Hunter-Reay prevailed in this year's Indy 500 in a riveting duel with three-time winner Helio Castroneves.

A little more than a month later, has what Hunter-Reay accomplished sunk in yet?

"It has a little bit," the 33-year-old Texan said before heading to Pocono for tomorrow's Pocono IndyCar 500. "The biggest reason why it hasn't is because right after winning the biggest race in the world, we went to Detroit, [then] we went to Texas the weekend after that. We had one weekend off and then went to Houston.

"I understand everything that went on and just how big it was. Not only the fact of winning the 500, but for the sport itself, how the 500 finished, how great the finish was, is the best part for me. I look forward to looking back on it, watching the whole race. I haven't even had time to watch the race again and kind of relive it."

Hunter-Reay, the 2012 IndyCar series champion, returns to Pocono full of enthusiasm. He finished 20th last year.

"I think it's great to be going back to Pocono," he said. "Pocono is a racetrack that fits IndyCar racing, fits it to a T. We're going to put on a great show there.

"The added bonus is we're in the right market. We need to be putting on our races there. IndyCar at Pocono was a major part of the schedule back in the day, and it seems to be that now it is again.

"So hopefully the fans will receive us well there. If we keep on putting on great shows, there's no reason it can't work."

Again, in light of the comments by the Igdalskys, will a compelling racing attract fans in sufficient numbers to keep the IndyCar series at Pocono?

Agenda

Pocono IndyCar 500 Fueled by Sunoco

Pocono Raceway, Long Pond, Pa.

When: Tomorrow, noon

TV: NBC Sports

Radio: WNPV (1440 AM)

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.

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