Friday, June 6, 2008

NASCAR Basics: The Tracks: Pocono

Though it's mostly oval racing, NASCAR has some pretty unique tracks: Darlington, Bristol, Daytona, and Talladega to name a few. Pocono, as you can probably tell from the diagram, belongs on the list too.

Posted by Picasa (diagram from

Pocono Raceway is an almost flat 2 1/2-mile tri-oval, but the turns are very tight, making the track more like a triangle and less like other tri-ovals like Daytona. Each turn is unique, making it hard to setup a car for the race. Teams must make compromises to get their cars to handle through all three turns and always struggle through at least one turn. The turns are more appropriate for a road course and are said to be modeled after turns at three different racetracks. Turn One, the most acute of the three (14 degree banking), is modeled on Trenton Speedway. The Tunnel Turn, Two, the most obtuse of the three (8 degree banking) is like turns at Indianapolis. Turn Three (6 degree banking) is like the Milwaukee Mile. Combine the sharp turns with the longest and widest straightaways in NASCAR and you've got the makings of a race.

Or not. Drivers and a lot of fans think the races are too boring and long and need to be shortened to 400 miles. The field gets strung out. The teams get frustrated trying to deal with the turns. Drivers are also grumbling about how outdated everything is at the track, including safety updates. Some would like Pocono to lose one of the two Sprint Cup races held annually at the track. Another complaint is that the two races are run too close together, in early June and early August.

Pocono Raceway is one of only three tracks on the Sprint Cup schedule that are not owned by Speedway Motorsports, Inc. or International Speedway Corp. The others are Indianapolis and Dover. Last month, Bruton Smith, CEO of SMI, announced the purchase of Kentucky Speedway and advanced the idea of buying another track and switching some dates around to get a Sprint Cup date at Kentucky as soon as 2009. NASCAR said, in effect, "That's too soon." Dr. Rose Mattioli, co-owner of Pocono Raceway with her husband Dr. Joseph, was quick to announce that their track "never was available; it never will be available."

The Mattiolis are close to the France family, and in the '70s, when the track was struggling financially and the Mattiolis were close to selling, Bill France Sr. urged them not to. A few years later, Bill France Sr. and Jr. awarded them a second annual Sprint Cup race, but the track is one of only two tracks (Indianapolis is the other) that does not host a Nationwide or Craftsman Truck Series race.

Pocono Raceway is located near Long Pond, a small community just off of I-80 in the scenic Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, about ninety miles from both Philadelphia and New York City. It opened in 1968 with races on the 3/4 mile track. The first IndyCar race on the 2 1/2-mile superspeedway, the Schaefer 500, came in 1971. Hurricane Agnes soon followed. NASCAR first raced there in 1974, with Richard Petty winning the inaugural Pocono 500. But, as the Mattioli's tell it, times were tough...
Due to many construction mistakes, the CART-USAC fight and a lot of inexperience, we suffered severe financial problems. We were almost bankrupt two or three times but were too dumb to realize it.
But, after the meeting with France Sr. and the addition of the second race, the situation greatly improved. In 1990, the Mattiolis began spending about $3 million per year for ten years to completely remake the track from the ground up with new crash walls, new paving, a new press box, a new garage area, and a new mobile home park for race participants. They tore out the old 3/4-mile track, but now have three separate infield tracks that each utilize a section of the tri-oval. Sports car and motorcycle clubs and driving schools keep the track busy most of the year now.

NASCAR Basics: The Tracks: Master List

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