IndyCar passes on Long Pond

Too many crashes, not enough fans, driv­ers say; Mon­roe track down to one NASCAR week­end

The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - By Keith Groller

Even be­fore a first-lap crash in the ABC Sup­ply 500 on Aug. 18 took out five cars and red­flagged the race for 45 min­utes, IndyCar wasn’t likely to re­turn to Po­cono Raceway in 2020.

How­ever, the Turn 2 ac­ci­dent and the re­ac­tion to it by some cer­tainly didn’t help the cause of those who wanted to see open-wheel rac­ing’s pre­mier se­ries re­turn in 2020.

On Sun­day, it be­came of­fi­cial: Po­cono Raceway is not on the 2020 sched­ule.

Dur­ing a pre­race show prior to the Grand Prix of Port­land, in Ore­gon, IndyCar CEO Mark Miles re­vealed the sched­ule and the ma­jor change had Rich­mond, which hasn’t held an IndyCar race since 2009, re­plac­ing Po­cono with a race sched­uled for June 27.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween IndyCar and Po­cono that dragged on for most of the sum­mer couldn’t pro­duce a re­turn in 2020, but the door is open down the road.

“It is with great dis­ap­point­ment for Po­cono Raceway to con­firm we will not be on the 2020 NTT IndyCar Se­ries sched­ule,” Po­cono CEO Nick Ig­dal­sky said in a re­lease. “Our part­ner­ship with the pre­mier open-wheel se­ries in the United States has con­cluded for now. It has been a plea­sure to work with IndyCar rep­re­sen­ta­tives dur­ing this hon­est and can­did ne­go­ti­a­tion.”

Miles didn’t ad­dress the rea­sons, and opened the door

slightly to a pos­si­ble re­turn in the fu­ture.

But some driv­ers have talked about the lack of at­ten­dance and the dan­ger of the track, which has re­sulted in ma­jor in­ci­dents in three of the seven races, as primary causes of IndyCar’s de­par­ture.

Justin Wil­son was killed in the af­ter­math of a freak ac­ci­dent in 2015. In 2018, Robert Wick­ens suf­fered life-al­ter­ing in­juries dur­ing a hor­rific crash on the sev­enth lap.

Dur­ing the most re­cent in­ci­dent, Wick­ens tweeted: “How many times do we have to go through the same sit­u­a­tion be­fore we can all ac­cept that IndyCar should not race at Po­cono. It’s just a toxic re­la­tion­ship and maybe it’s time to con­sider a di­vorce.”

The Mid-Ohio event has moved into what had been Po­cono’s spot on the sched­ule, shift­ing from July 28 this year to Aug. 16 next year.

Po­cono Raceway of­fi­cials said re­peat­edly they wanted IndyCar to re­turn.

At a press con­fer­ence in late July prior to NASCAR’s sec­ond race of the sum­mer, Ig­dal­sky said: “The ball’s in their court. We want it back. We’ve got some ideas we’ve thrown out there and we’re wait­ing to hear back. It’s an unbelievab­le sen­sa­tion you get from the speed of when they dive into Turn 1. If the cards align, great. If they don’t there are some op­tions we’re look­ing at.”

In the re­lease, Ig­dal­sky ex­pressed re­gret that a re­la­tion­ship that was rekin­dled in 2013 af­ter a 23-year gap had come to an end.

“On be­half of the en­tire Po­cono Raceway fam­ily, it has been a joy get­ting to know the teams and part­ners, many of whom have be­come dear friends,” Ig­dal­sky said. “Thank you to ABC Sup­ply Co., Inc., who have sup­ported our IndyCar events since 2014. Thank you to all the fans that have sup­ported Po­cono over the years. We share in the dis­ap­point­ment of thou­sands who also dreamed of fu­ture open wheel races at ‘The Tricky Tri­an­gle.’ A sin­cere thank you to Mario An­dretti, for his years of pas­sion­ate sup­port.”

An­dretti, the Nazareth na­tive and 1969 In­di­anapo­lis 500 win­ner who won at Po­cono in 1986 said in the week af­ter this year’s race: “I would be very, very sad if the race is not con­tin­u­ing. I was de­lighted when it was fi­nally back on the sched­ule [in 2013]. I have made my po­si­tion very clear. I have spo­ken with the pow­ers that be at IndyCar. I per­son­ally think it would be a big­ger loss for IndyCar than for Po­cono, quite hon­estly.”

The speeds reg­is­tered by the 2019 cars are con­sid­er­ably faster than the times recorded in 1971 when Mark Donahue won the 1971 Schae­fer 500, the first ma­jor race at Po­cono in any rac­ing genre.

In ad­di­tion to con­cerns about the track, some have been dis­ap­pointed by the crowds, although it has grown every year since IndyCar re­turned.

“Po­cono was prob­a­bly my fa­vorite oval, but it costs us be­tween $400,000 to $500,000 a race,” IndyCar Se­ries team owner Bobby Ra­hal told NBC “If I’m go­ing to spend that kind of money, I want to spend it in front of some­body. It’s a shame, but even in the good old days, we never re­ally at­tracted that many peo­ple.”

The loss of IndyCar gives Po­cono just one ma­jor rac­ing week­end in 2020. The one week­end will be the big­gest in the track’s his­tory since all three of NASCAR’s ma­jor se­ries will have races on back-to-back days June 27-28, in­clud­ing an un­prece­dented pair of Mon­ster Cup se­ries races on con­sec­u­tive days.

On Aug. 16, Po­cono Raceway Pres­i­dent Ben May said the track had hoped to keep IndyCar be­cause of what race week­ends mean fi­nan­cially to the re­gion.

“We don’t want to do that to our lo­cal busi­nesses in the area,” May said. “Be­cause the races are com­bined into one week­end, of course, it may af­fect some hotels and busi­nesses. But the num­ber of peo­ple com­ing into the re­gion will re­main the same, if not grow.”

With two more sum­mer week­ends open in 2020, look for Po­cono Raceway to try to at­tract more events like the Po­cono Air Show which gen­er­ated a lot of in­ter­est in the area Aug. 24-25.

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