Revisiting Pocono

At the intersection of Andretti and Hulman Roads, tens of thousands of spectators will congregate July 7, 2013, for the first Indy car race in almost 24 years at Pocono Raceway.

The 2.5-mile triangular racetrack hosted 200-lap battles from 1971 and 1989 under first USAC and then CART sanction. Mark Donohue won the inaugural event at the recently-opened racetrack from the pole. Danny Sullivan (photo above) won the final race by four-tenths of a second over Penske Racing teammate Rick Mears and averaged 170.720 mph. Emerson Fittipaldi set a track qualifying record of 211.715 mph (42.51 seconds) in the finale.

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The top 10 finishers in that 1989 race: Sullivan, Mears, Michael Andretti, Teo Fabi, Mario Andretti, Bobby Rahal, Al Unser, Scott Pruett, Al Unser Jr., and John Jones.

Pocono - Randy Bernard and Brandon Igdalsky"We are excited to be coming back to Pocono after 23 years," INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard said at an Oct. 1 news conference at the track. "I think that one of the most important things that we can do for the fan base is to tell them we're listening. And Pocono was definitely the place our fans wanted to see on our schedule. This was a track that was built for Indy car."

Pocono Raceway CEO and president Brandon Igdalsky is excited about the IZOD IndyCar Series venturing to the facility just south of I-80 in northeastern Pennsylvania. During the summer, Pocono mailed a survey to ticket-holders in an effort to gauge the interest of an IZOD IndyCar Series race among other things.

“The fans wanted to see open-wheel racing return to Pocono Raceway and we’re excited to welcome the IZOD IndyCar Series back next summer,” Igdalsky said. “We are now pleased to offer the greatest fans in all of motorsports the very best in both stock car and open-wheel racing.” 

The addition of Pocono for the 400-mile July race, combined with 500-mile races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Auto Club Speedway, creates a version of the Indy car Triple Crown. From 1971-80, the three tracks involved were Indy, Pocono and Ontario (Calif.). When Ontario closed in 1980, it was replaced by Michigan and the Triple Crown lasted until 1989.

Click it: Listen to teleconference featuring Bernard, Igdalsky

A driver who wins at all three ovals in 2013 will be awarded a $1 million bonus. The Pocono Raceway event will be broadcast on ABC.

Each of the racetrack’s turns is modeled after three different tracks: Turn 1 (14 degrees banking) was modeled after Trenton Speedway. Turn 2 (8 degrees) is like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Turn 3 (6 degrees) is like the Milwaukee Mile. Some has described Pocono as a “roval” – a modified road course.

"Just pulling through the tunnel and coming into the facility, you get the feeling that this is a special place, the same kind of feeling that I get in Indianapolis, so I can’t wait to get on track here in an IndyCar," said team owner/driver Ed Carpenter, who also attended the news conference.

"I expect it to be a real challenge. It’s called 'The Tricky Triangle' for a reason. There are three totally different corners with different degrees of banking. With that, I think it’s going to make for very exciting racing. I think that IndyCars will put on a great show here, and then you throw that in the middle of the Triple Crown. Hopefully all the local race fans will find their way out to come watch it."

A.J. Foyt won four times at Pocono (including his final career victory in 1981), while Mears won three times (and started from the pole four times) and Al Unser and Sullivan each won twice.

"It was always one of my favorite tracks because of the uniqueness,” said Mears, who recorded three of Penske Racing’s seven wins at the track. “It makes it a challenge, which is what makes it fun. Get the car set up for all three of those corners, like three different racetracks, it is always a compromise.

“The Pocono track is all about driving. We are very excited about getting back there."

Added Johnny Rutherford, who won the 1974 race: "Back then, if you could master the third turn, if you could run flat through there, then you could put a good lap together. It was not easy because it was fairly flat and all three turns are different. The straightaways are all different lengths. It has the longest straightaway in an oval track that we run on (3,740 feet). You really get to flying down that thing and then you get into the banked biggest turn and down the straightaway and into the back into the tunnel turn (Turn 2), and that's a toughie. It will be exciting."  

The racing surface was repaved before the 2012 season, and other recent facility improvements include installation of more of the SAFER Barrier, new catch fencing all around the track and concrete pit stalls.

Mario Andretti, who competed in 17 Indy car races at Pocono, praised track officials for recent improvements.

“The safety features are second to none,” said Andretti, who drove the track before the news conference. “All the drivers will love this place and the challenges.” 

Indy car race history at Pocono (with date, race winner, team, chassis/engine, average speed and pole sitter)

July 3, 1971 – Mark Donohue (Penske Racing) … McLaren/Offy … 138.649 mph average
                         Pole (Mark Donohue)
July 29, 1972 – Joe Leonard (Vel’s Parnelli Jones Racing) … Parnelli/Offy … 154.781 mph average
                           Pole (Bobby Unser)
July 1, 1973 – A.J. Foyt (A.J. Foyt Enterprises) … Coyote/Foyt … 144.948 mph average
                         Pole (Peter Revson)
June 3, 1974 – Johnny Rutherford (Bruce McLaren Motor Racing) … McLaren/Offy … 156.701 mph average
                           Pole (Bobby Unser)
June 29, 1975 – A.J. Foyt (A.J. Foyt Enterprises) … Coyote/Foyt … 140.712 mph average
                             Pole (Gordon Johncock)
June 27, 1976 – Al Unser (Vel’s Parnelli Jones Racing) … Parnelli/Cosworth … 143.622 mph average
                             Pole (Johnny Parsons; drew for position)
June 26, 1977 – Tom Sneva (Penske Racing) … McLaren/Cosworth … 152.931 mph average
                             Pole (A.J. Foyt)
June 25, 1978 – Al Unser (Chaparral Cars) … Chaparral/Cosworth … 142.261 mph average
                             Pole (Danny Ongais)
June 24, 1979 – A.J. Foyt (A.J. Foyt Enterprises) … Parnelli/Cosworth … 134.995 mph average
                             Pole (A.J. Foyt)
June 22, 1980 – Bobby Unser (Penske Racing) … Penske/Cosworth … 151.454 mph average
                             Pole (Bobby Unser)
June 14, 1981 – A.J. Foyt (A.J. Foyt Enterprises) … March/Cosworth … 137.196 mph average
                            Pole (A.J. Foyt; drew for position)
Aug. 15, 1982 – Rich Mears (Penske Racing) … Penske/Cosworth … 145.879 mph average
                             Pole (Rick Mears)
Aug. 14, 1983 – Teo Fabi (Forsythe Racing) … March/Cosworth … 134.852 mph average
                             Pole (Tom Sneva)
Aug. 19, 1984 – Danny Sullivan (Doug Shierson Racing) … Lola/Cosworth … 137.303 mph average
                             Pole (Rick Mears)
Aug. 18, 1985 – Rick Mears (Penske Racing) … March/Cosworth … 151.676 mph average
                             Pole (Rick Mears)
Aug. 17, 1986 – Mario Andretti (Newman/Haas Racing) … Lola/Cosworth … 152.106 mph average
                             Pole (Michael Andretti)
Aug. 16, 1987 – Rick Mears (Penske Racing) … March/Chevrolet-Ilmor … 156.373 mph average
                             Pole (Mario Andretti)
Aug. 21, 1988 – Bobby Rahal (Truesports) … Lola/Judd … 133.713 mph average
                             Pole (Rick Mears)
Aug. 20, 1989 – Danny Sullivan (Penske Racing) … Penske/Chevrolet-Ilmor … 170.720 mph average
                             Pole (Emerson Fittipaldi)