IndyCar passes on Long Pond
Too many crashes, not enough fans, drivers say; Monroe track down to one NASCAR weekend
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 Sports.com. “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.