2013 saw IndyCar return to Pocono Raceway, in scenic Long Pond, PA. The last time a race of this kind (it was CART, back in those days) was held at Pocono the year was 1989, when yours truly was but a tiny race fan. It was one of the first races I remember clearly, with Danny Sullivan winning the event. He also won Nazareth, the next race I remember attending. Of course, from this small sample size, I assumed that Danny Sullivan won every race he entered, because I was a kid and kids think weird things like that. So anyway, Pocono hosted its first race in nearly 25 years, over July 4th weekend, and it was wonderful. Here are some somewhat related thoughts on my experiences:
1. Saturday’s Alright for Racing
If you’re a race fan, you know this. Going to the race on Sunday? You better be there on Saturday. In IndyCar, the race weekends are only two days, which means they cram a LOT into the day before the race, even more if there’s an Indy Lights event happening. From 9AM to 6PM there was something happening on track, and when there wasn’t, that just meant you should’ve been in the pits, enjoying the greatest bargain in racing, namely…
2. The best $20 You’ll Ever Spend
This is what separates IndyCar racing from its mouthbreathing third cousin, NASCAR: they actually WANT you to see the racing up close. Along with the general admission fee for Saturday, an extra Mr. Hamilton will gain you access to the pits, paddock, AND garages of the track. There, you’ll see the cars (like, if you really wanted to, you could touch them. And they’d likely let you, if you asked), the drivers, everything. Fancy yourself a photographer? You can take as many pictures as you like. Pictures like this:
(CLICK TO ENLARGE)
3. The Best Fans in Racing
Know how there’s that stereotype of the beer-swilling shirtless redneck “WHOOOOO!!!”-ing every time the drivers come past him on the track? Ever been to a race where that guy (and 10,000 of his closest friends) are actually doing that? Yeah, it sucks, doesn’t it? The nice thing about open-wheel crowds is that the folks there are actually there to watch the race, not get so drunk that the sunburn doesn’t start to hurt until Tuesday. I’ve had more good conversations with strangers at IndyCar races than I have at any other sporting event, and this weekend was no different. Plus, the amount of people wearing Nazareth Speedway attire made me miss my dearly departed home track more than I thought possible.
4. Good Lord, Pocono is HUGE
Somewhat off topic, but this is worth mentioning. I live an hour from the greatest race course in the world, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, so I’m no stranger to what a 2.5 mile-long racecourse is all about, but Pocono is a bit different. It only has three turns, for one thing, and all three turns are completely different, based on turns from other famous tracks (Trenton, IMS, and Milwaukee, if you were curious), with straightaways of varying lengths connecting them. This means it’s a very long way from the front straight to Turn 2. Binoculars are a must. The cars were lapping the course around 220 MPH all weekend, due in large part do the recent resurfacing that made IndyCar’s return to Pocono possible.
5. Oh Yeah, the Racing
There were two races over the weekend- the Indy Lights series race, held on Saturday, and the Pocono 400 on Sunday. Remember what I said about Saturday? You should have been there: plenty of passes for the lead, the South American Driver of the Future Carlos Muñoz winning the race, and the other driver from Nazareth, Sage Karam, coming in second. Plus, you can watch the Saturday activities from any seat in the grandstand, so the aforementioned $20 meant you could watch the race from way up top in the slightly more expensive seats.
Let’s talk a minute about ticket prices, if you don’t mind. Saturday was, as discussed, $40 if you wanted to walk around the pits, or $20 if you just wanted to sit in the grandstands all day and see racecars. Sunday? Get this- general admission was $45. Seriously. For 400 miles of 200+MPH racing, with free parking. I know this sounds like I’m working for the Mattiolis here, but that’s a bargain. Also, if you have kids (I have cats, but maybe you have kids. Good on you. Kids are great!) they were free on Saturday and half price on Sunday. Beat that, every other televised sport! Pro tip: get there early on race day, because those roads do not handle traffic all that well. Just a heads up.
Sunday was awesome. My brother’s high school classmate and noted local driver Marco Andretti, who had been fastest in every session held on track all week, sat on pole, sharing the front row with two teammates from Andretti Racing. As part of the special championship of oval racing (I forget what it’s called and I’m too lazy to look it up right now), the cars lined up and started three-wide, which made for a great first lap, and first lap accident, with James “The Mayor of Hinchtown” Hinchcliffe wrecking hard in the first turn and bringing the crowd to their feet. The attendance was pretty decent, too, with more than 30,000 people showing up for the race. Anyway, 400 miles went by rather quickly. Some notes:
1) My favorite current driver, Takuma Sato, wrecked right in front of us, stupidly. We literally threw up our hands in disgust.
2) Marco’s consistently idiotic team ran him out of gas as he lost a commanding lead and finished 7th. The crowd was irked.
3) Speaking of Andretti, I think this is a weekend they’d like to forget altogether.
4) The IndyCar Radio broadcast was the PA feed for the race. That could change for 2014 and I wouldn’t mind. Heck, let me call the race, it can’t be all that different from college club hockey.
5) For having such an engaging twitter feed, the Herta car is having a TERRIBLE year. Tagliani deserves better.
6) Chip Ganassi surprised pretty much everyone and somehow found his cars finishing 1-2-3.
Friendly Kiwi Scott Dixon won the race. He seems like a nice enough guy, and I’m glad he won. Popular diabetic Charlie Kimball finished second, and Scottish brogue machine/former Mr. Ashley Judd Dario Franchitti finished third. All in all, an excellent race. I wish that Tony Kanaan had finished better, but he won the 500 this year, which is better than anything else that will happen in racing in 2013.
Personally, the weekend was everything I could have asked for: As previously noted, my dad and I rather enjoy racing, and his birthday was on the 7th, so getting to spend the weekend with him and my brother at the track was pretty special. On Sunday, my aunts Amy (who used to have a massive crush on Geoff Brabham) and Martha (former president of the Gerhard Berger Fan Club. I’m not kidding.) came out too, so it was a delightfully Capwell affair.
I heard from someone that the Mattioli family signed a three-year contract with IndyCar, which means this time next year I’ll be front and center at Pocono Raceway, booing the Penskes, rooting on the backmarkers, and getting sunburned with the rest of my fair-skinned family. Until then, thank you to Pocono Raceway, and happy birthday to my dad, the coolest race fan in my life: