Indy Hump Day Report, On the bubble: Motegi!

Hey man, don’t Tweet-kill my buzz!

Yes we all saw the IZOD INDYCAR Series get a ton of attention from a Twitter fight. Tomas Scheckter behaving like an 8th grade bully, taunting the emotionally weakest classmate on-line. Yeah sure Graham put it out there he was single, doesn’t excuse the childish behavior from the South African driver. I mean I talked about my father passing, is it then ok to make jokes about my dead father since, I mentioned it on-line? Only if you’re a total *******!

While much of the Tuesday tweeting was about Scheckter and the “Dull kid” with the new Rolex, with a little bit of Paul Tracy’s complaints of being “back doored” by Jimmy Vasser and others over sponsors. The early morning surprise in media member’s mailboxes Wednesday was far better tweeting material.

Seems that at 7AM ET; the IZOD INDYCAR Series director of media relations hit send on an e-mail, one many fans have been prying for years. Motegi will no longer be part of the series schedule starting in 2012. Yes just another reason why 2011 can’t end fast enough for most IZOD INDYCAR fans.

While the response from fans, was overwhelmingly supportive ending the marriage with Motegi. Two main schools of thought did arise; first that Japan was not the problem but Motegi itself, the track had terribly dull races to watch on TV, and why people would not stay up for a 1AM ET green flag with single file fuel mileage strategy.

The second point is a far more nervous feeling for fans of left hand turns; where will they find an oval to replace Motegi? This is a real problem since the France family of NASCAR (aka International Speedway Corporation or “those rats from ISC” for short), have a monopoly on superspeedways in North America.

I hear your concerns fans, and I once again deliver this idea. Pocono Raceway! Yes the track the people of the now defunct CART Series abandoned in 1989 when it went without a repaving and still had “boiler plate” for the outer walls in the turns. While the inner walls are still guard rail, the outer walls in the turns got “Safer barriers” several years ago now.

This is a track that held its first superspeedway race with the old USAC Gold Crown Series (IndyCar before CART) in 1971. Can you name the first winner in that race? Here is a hint without this racing legend; there would be no Helio fence climbs, nor any spin and win by Danny Sullivan, nor any dominant wins for Mercedes at the Indy 500. The man is none other than Mark Donohue. Yeah talk about a name to be your first.

July 3rd 1971 Mark Donohue drove the blue and yellow Offy powered McLaren to victory in the then Schaefer (Beer) 500. Joe Leonard would be the next winner in 1972 for Parnelli Jones, 1973 A.J. Foyt would win his first of four Open Wheel races at the 2.5 mile Triangle.

The list of winners at the “Tricky Triangle” is a regular “Who’s who” of IndyCar.

1974: Johnny Rutherford

1975: A.J. Foyt

1976: Al Unser Sr.

1977: Tom Sneva

1978: Al Unser Sr.

1979: A.J. Foyt

1980: Bobby Unser

1981: A.J. Foyt **

1982: Rick Mears

1983: Teo Fabi +

1984: Danny Sullivan

1985: Rick Mears

1986: Mario Andretti

1987: Rick Mears

1988: Bobby Rahal

1989: Danny Sullivan (final open wheel race at Pocono)

** This was the last IndyCar race USAC would sanction outside of the Brickyard. The race had only half a field of “Gold Crown” cars since most of the better teams and drivers were racing with CART that weekend. So USAC filled the rest of the field with Silver Crown sprinters. (Check it out!)

+ Fabi was the only non-U.S. citizen to win an IndyCar race at Pocono.

Pocono was part of the “Triple Crown” of IndyCar, in the early days Indy, Pocono, and Ontario CA. made that list. In later years Indy, Michigan, and Pocono were the three crowns. Funny thing is now the track’s façade has been made to look a bit like Churchill Downs during its stock car only years.

Now for those who think Pocono is still run by just Dr. Joe Mattioli, you should know his grandson Brandon Igdalsky is now the President of Pocono. He handles the day to day business of the facility. Not to bash the grandfather, but I have seen more projects in the last 18 months at Pocono than the 18 years before. From putting backs on the seats, to building the first solar farm at a major motorsports facility. (Oh and that also happens to be the Pocono’s first solar farm as well.)

So when in 2009  I started @IRLBack2Pocono on Twitter, a local writer for the Pocono Record e-mailed me and then interviewed me over the phone about it. While I gave him the pitch of why it is good for Pocono, Dr. Joe Mattioli replied with a firm “NEVER”. Doc felt burned out of money by CART, and the last event lost money in attendance. CART on the other hand claimed safety issues from the “Boiler Plate” walls, to a rough track surface as reason for leaving.

Well last season I was happy to see not a definite yes from President Brandon and VP Nick Igdalsky.(nick is also a driver in both ARCA & Grand-Am) They are not against the idea if it sounds like something that could put behinds in seats and make money for Pocono. This is from last season in the USA Today:

“Igdalsky, and his brother Nick, is easing Pocono into an always-evolving modern day sports world. As a dogged promoter, Igdalsky is searching for ways to bring more events to the Pocono. That’s why he won’t rule out making a pitch for an IndyCar Series race, only a month after the open-wheel series announced it was returning to New Hampshire.

‘This place was built for IndyCars. It was built by IndyCar drivers,’ Igdalsky said. ‘I’m not going to say it’s going to happen.’”

So while it is not a “YES COME ON IN INDYCAR!!!” it’s a start. As is the fact, the people who had bad blood with the Mattioli family are not running the series any longer. Now we have Randy Bernard; a great diplomat, and a man who can provide a clean slate for the series side. As can Brandon and Nick whom were kids when CART last raced the “Tricky Triangle”.

Brandon has been on the record that Pocono is a work in progress and they will be repaving it in the next five years. They will be replacing the guard rails with more safer walls as well. So the issue of “can it be safe” is clearly already being addressed since the track needs to modernize even for just stock cars. (See USA Today story from November here)

As for Randy Bernard on the matter, well I asked him point blank in Baltimore about Pocono Raceway. Here is what Randy Bernard had to say: (POCONO QUESTION)

With NASCAR’s ticket sales and ratings on the decline as noted in the Forbes interview with Mike Kelly, VP of Marketing for Philip-Van Husen. Pocono has also felt the effect of the stock car giant’s demise, with an extremely poor turnout last summer as reported by the Pocono Record.

What can the fans do?

Simple; make noise, lots and lots of noise! Both Brandon Igdalsky, and Randy Bernard need to hear from you.

IZOD INDYCAR Series contact info:

Phone: (317)-492-6526

Office Hours Mon.-Fri. 9AM ET- 5PM ET

Snail mail (U.S. Postal address):

4565 West 16th Street
Indianapolis, IN 46222

E-Mail:

indycar@indycar.com

Pocono Raceway contact info:

Phone: (570)-646-2300

Office hours Mon.-Fri. 9AM ET – 5PM ET

Mailing address:

PO BOX 500
Long Pond Rd.
Long Pond, PA 18334

E-Mail:

poconorw@poconoraceway.com

Also don’t be shy from using other means like Twitter and Facebook to lobby the two sides to meet.

For more activity on bringing INDYCAR back to Pocono Raceway,

Twitter: @IRLBack2Pocono

Facebook: Bring IndyCars Back to Pocono

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