LONG POND, Pa. -- Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Michael Stack enjoys meeting residents at various events across the commonwealth, and to share a few moments with one of its most famous residents "was something else."
Of course, riding in the Honda-powered "Fastest Seat in Sports" behind driver Mario Andretti on the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway wasn't conducive to an in-depth conversation.
Stack, an Indy car racing fan "from way back," attended the ABC Supply 500 -- the penultimate race on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. Pocono Raceway first hosted an Indy car race in 1971, won by Mark Donohue.
"(The racetrack) is such an important part of Pennsylvania sport and cultural history and it's a huge economic driver," Stack said. "I'm a huge supporter of Pocono Raceway and of Indy car racing. I think more and more Pennsylvanians are paying attention to it and, of course, around the country and around the world."
The Andretti family has made Nazareth, Pa., home for decades.
"They're icons of Pennsylvania and we're so proud of them," Stack said. "Their support for our state and for the Pocono Raceway has been excellent, and I'm proud to have gotten a ride in the two-seat car with Mario."
First and only win 27 years ago
It was 27 years ago that what turned out to be an Indy car anomaly occurred at Pocono Raceway.
Driving the Truesports Lola, Bobby Rahal won the Quaker State 500 on Aug. 21, 1988, behind the power of a Judd engine. It goes down as the only Indy car race victory for the English engine developed by its namesake, John Judd, and Formula One legend Sir Jack Brabham.
“That year had been tough initially with the engine,” Rahal said. "We had been at a deficit to the Chevrolet, which was the dominant engine. We were good on the road courses, but definitely at a deficit to Chevy in terms or power at Indianapolis, Michigan and Pocono (superspeedways).”
In a race of attrition that saw 12 of the 26 cars finish the race, Rahal and second-place Al Unser Jr. were the only drivers to finish Pocono on the lead lap. Indy car greats Emerson Fittipaldi, Rick Mears, A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Danny Sullivan, Michael Andretti, Arie Luyendyk and Al Unser all exited early because of mechanical issues or crashes.
“We qualified third for the race, which I attribute more to the car’s handling than anything,” Rahal said. “Once the race started, it was obvious we were at a deficit and knew we weren’t a threat to win. It wound up being a sort of tortoise-and-hare story. The Chevy teams started having engine problems and dropping out.
“I was leading toward the end,” added Rahal, who took the lead for the first time on Lap 146 of 200 around the Tricky Triangle, “and Al Sr. powered by and I thought that was it. Next thing, I saw him slowing down (with an ignition issue) and the race fell in our lap.”
Rahal led the final 28 laps to secure the 18th of what would be 24 career Indy car victories.
Ironically, the Judd engine was badged a Brabham-Honda when it debuted in CART competition in mid-1986. Rahal, co-owner of the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team that fields the No. 15 Honda-powered entry for his son Graham. He draws some parallels.
“It is similar to today,” Bobby Rahal said. “Honda has had some issues keeping up with Chevy this year with the aero kits and engines, but they kept plugging along and our car is right in the thick of it for the championship."
Marco Andretti's bid to become the second Indy car driver to complete every lap of a season ended on a Lap 139 restart when the No. 27 Snapple Honda for Andretti Autosport made contact with the SAFER Barrier. Tony Kanaan in 2004 completed all 3,305 laps in 17 races on the way to winning the series title. Andretti had been running at the finish in the past 17 races spanning two seasons. ... Gabby Chaves, driving the No. 98 Bowers & Wilkins/Curb Honda for BHA with Curb-Agajanian, led the first laps of his rookie season. Over in Europe, team owner Bryan Herta's 15-year-old son, Colton, posted two podium finishes at the Knockhill circuit in the MSA Formula Championship. ... A yellow flag flew on Lap 163 because of a fox scampering across the racetrack.