Pocono Returns For The Long-Haul

While last week was a very tough week on race fans in general, there was a bit of bright news that probably would’ve gotten a lot more attention under normal situations.

The Verizon IndyCar Series retuned to Pocono in 2013 for the first time since CART last raced there in 1989. Since their much-anticipated return in 2013, the crowds have been less than stellar and there has been speculation that each year might be the last at The Tricky Triangle. Quite honestly, that was my motivation for making pans to attend the race there this weekend – because I strongly suspected that this might be my last chance to see IndyCars race there.

Fortunately, I was wrong (as usual). Not only will the series be there this weekend for a fourth straight race in as many years; but it was announced last Wednesday that IndyCar and Pocono Raceway had signed a two-year extension – guaranteeing that the series would race there through the 2018 season.

This is big for a lot of reasons. When it was all but announced that the oval at Gateway Motorsports Park would be added to the 2017 schedule, many (myself included) speculated that it might be in place of Pocono since it is rumored to be run in August. The crowds at Pocono had not been good and many thought that Pocono’s removal from the schedule would be announced shortly after the completion of this weekend’s race. Now that we know that there will be at least two more races at Pocono after this weekend, this allows so many things to fall into place.

First and foremost, fans know it will be back and can make long-term plans – especially if the build some date equity around the third weekend in August each year. While Pocono Raceway is situated in a remote area in Pennsylvania, it is roughly a two-hour drive from New York City and Philadelphia – the largest and fifth largest cities in the US, respectively. With proper marketing, there is no reason why the IndyCar races at Pocono should play to such sparse grandstands, being that close to so many millions of people.

While the Northeast is not considered the epicenter of the racing world, there have to be more than fifty thousand fans in those two markets that are willing to make a two-hour drive if they are enticed properly.

Now that IndyCar and Pocono Raceway know that they have two more years, each entity can feel a little more comfortable in making a more long-term investment in promoting their races properly. Having Watkins Glen just a couple of weeks afterwards may not be as much as a negative as people think. Folks in western New York and eastern Pennsylvania can take in two entirely different forms of racing just two weekends apart at tracks only three hours apart. If packaged properly, each event could feed off of the other.

Here’s some obscure trivia for you. Without looking, which is further east – Watkins Glen or Pocono? I was surprised to learn that it’s Pocono. Then again, I don’t live in the Northeast and haven’t spent a ton of time in western New York, except for spending a few weeks in Buffalo for work about twenty years ago. But I digress…

This helps with team and series sponsorships, also. It helps when potential sponsors know where races will be taking place a couple of years out. We are now in the time of year when most teams should be solidifying their sponsorship packages for next year. Granted, some of the deals don’t come together until the last minute in the spring – but in an ideal world, many of the deals are made in and around the month of August. If a team can tell a sponsor that they know for certain that they will be racing within a two-hour drive from New York City and Philadelphia – that can carry some weight in the decision-making process.

More than anyone else, I suspect Jay Frye, IndyCar President of Competition and Operations, made this happen. We already know that he was responsible for getting Phoenix back on the schedule this year, and he pulled off a miracle in signing an agreement with Watkins Glen on a moment’s notice after the Boston debacle. I don’ know this, but I also suspect he is behind the push to solidify the 2017 and 2018 schedules before the current season is over.

With his previous motorsports background, Frye knows the importance of date equity and getting long-term deals set in stone for the benefit of fans, tracks, teams and sponsors. Motorsports is a different animal than tennis, and perhaps CEO Mark Miles has realized what a secret weapon he has in Jay Frye and has finally decided to utilize his talents and experience properly.

So, yes – there was some good news in the racing world last week. I think that Pocono is only the first track to solidify it’s place on the 2018 schedule. I look forward to more pleasant surprises for the schedule in the coming weeks.

George Phillips

8 Responses to “Pocono Returns For The Long-Haul”

  1. Just wanted to note something from Twitter I saw, with NASCAR, NHRA and F1 off this weekend, why wouldn’t Indycar try to get a race in on a weekend like that? I hope they look at the 2018 schedules for gaps like that. The competition with the Olympics would be strong but you could be the only motorsport on TV, run a doubleheader that weekend!

  2. Pocono is a throwback track. Realized this when we went a couple years ago. It is the only track with the bathroom patron, gentleman sits at the doorway and maintains the cleanliness of the bathroom. Tips are accepted.

  3. hey George. super glad and the seris through jay frye got deals done with watskins glenn and Pocono. hopefully Richmond , Kentucky, Fontana also return. wouldn’t mind mosport and maybe road atlana could be added as well.

    rip to my friend bryan clauson.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    Some great news during a tough week. Pocono is a unique challenge for racers and it is fitting that Indycar drivers should tackle it.

    The shot down the mile-wide front straight is one of the best camera angles in motorsports, with some of the coolest-looking starts and restarts to be seen.

  5. Good news indeed. Having said that, I am in full agreement with Robin Miller that fans at an oval track need to have more going on before the race starts and the races should begin no later than 1PM. Sitting around in the stands under a hot sun until 3-4 PM with little to hold fan’s attention is not likely to get new fans to return. The racing event should be set up for the maximum benefit of the fans who attend, not the TV suits. They should also take a page from the Road America promotion manual and allow kids to get in free.

    With reference to Bryan Clauson: Why is it that Racer.com has no news about midgets, sprints, and silver crown cars until a driver dies? The number of potential readers for news of those series has to be greater than that for some of the more obscure series featured at Racer.com.

  6. Edgar Emmitt Says:

    Glad Pocono is back.

    If Miilw would of been run like RA did this year at 12 noon I think you would still see the historic track in the fold.

    Late start times and changing dates were the death of this great track that my love for Indy car in the early 60s got it start for me.

  7. I had the pleasure of attending Pocono last year and thoroughly enjoyed my visit until the accident that took Justin Wilson’s life. It’s good for the series that the track has been renewed for the next two years. I too would like to see more fans in the seats. Since it is a vacation spot, maybe Pocono needs to be advertised as more of a family event. There certainly are a lot of opportunities for camping, hiking, fishing, etc. in addition to raising. Let’s hope that there’s more track action than I saw last year.

    I am planning to go back to Pocono again next year as my away race for 2016 is the Glen.

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