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Pocono Raceway ready to return to open-wheel racing in 2013

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For two decades, the heroes of open-wheel racing’s golden age visited the 2.5-mile oval at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania. The list of winners in those USAC and CART events is a stellar one, featuring names like Mark Donahue, A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, Rick Mears and Mario Andretti.

In 2013, open-wheel racing’s current stars will get the chance to join them on that list. Pocono will host a 400-mile event on July 7 and be one of two new venues (the other being Houston’s Reliant Park) to be visited next season by the IZOD IndyCar Series.

For many longtime fans, the return of open-wheel racing to ‘The Tricky Triangle’ had been a desired wish. On Monday, track president/CEO Brandon Igdalsky credited those fans for helping revive a piece of Indy-car history.

“Tickets went on sale this morning and we have been inundated with phone calls all morning with people wanting to buy tickets,” said Igdalsky, who confirmed that the race would be on the IndyCar schedule for at least the next three seasons.

“They are there. They are ready. Now that they have the opportunity, they are showing it. And we will just continue to promote it locally in the market and in our neighboring areas where we know the fans are at and keep driving to get them there.”

Igdalsky would not reveal what kind of attendance would render the Pocono 400 a success in his eyes, but expressed confidence in netting a good crowd that would draw in fans from New York, Philadelphia, and overseas to compliment the aforementioned diehards.

Adding to the excitement of Pocono’s return in 2013 is its role as part of an oval-track Triple Crown that will also feature the Indianapolis 500 in May and the 500-mile season finale in mid-October at Auto Club Speedway outside Los Angeles. A $1 million bonus will be awarded to the driver that can win all three of those events.

“As everyone knows, tradition is so important to the sport,” said INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard. “And if you are going to bring Pocono back, I think it makes the most sense to bring the Triple Crown as well.

“Thanks to Brandon and his family, the fans are going to get to see what they have been wanting — both Pocono and the Triple Crown.”

The ties between the Igdalsky/Mattioli families and Pocono Raceway bear a striking resemblance to those of the Hulman-George family and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Brandon Igdalsky is a grandson of the late Dr. Joseph Mattioli, who founded Pocono Raceway in the early 1960s and led the facility until his August 2011 retirement.

By the time Mattioli died this past January at the age of 86, Pocono had long cemented its place in NASCAR history (the track hosts two Sprint Cup weekends each year). But a nasty feud that stemmed from the USAC-CART split of 1979 and ended with CART leaving his track in 1989 permanently soured him on open-wheel.

However, despite those problems, Igdalsky thought that IndyCar’s return to Pocono would have occurred even if his grandfather was still alive.

“You saw him in his latter years, and my grandmother [Dr. Rose Mattioli] has always been a huge supporter of IndyCar,” he said. “The two of them always went at it on their own in regards to IndyCar being here over the years. And you know, obviously he went through a lot of turmoil back with the USAC-CART split, and that took a toll on him.

“But I think INDYCAR is doing a great job and hopefully, they are past all that, and with what Randy is doing, there’s a great future ahead…and we are excited to be part of that.”

Bernard is equally excited about working with Pocono — a sorely needed new oval for the schedule and a track that will be featured on network television as one of ABC’s IndyCar dates for 2013.

“We know we are going to have great racing here,” he said. “…This track is one of those great tracks that you really want on your series.”

PAST OPEN WHEEL WINNERS AT POCONO (Credit: Racing-Reference.info)

USAC

1971 – Mark Donahue

1972- Joe Leonard

1973, 1975, 1979, 1981 -A.J. Foyt

1974 – Johnny Rutherford

1976, 1978 – Al Unser

1977 – Tom Sneva

1980 – Bobby Unser

CART

1982, 1985, 1987 – Rick Mears

1983 – Teo Fabi

1984, 1989 – Danny Sullivan

1986 – Mario Andretti

1988 – Bobby Rahal

All quotes used in this article were taken from Monday’s INDYCAR teleconference.