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IndyCar race at Pocono deemed a success
Mario Andretti gives a thumbs up to IndyCar's return to Pocono
Two prominent racing people involved in the return of open-wheel racing to Pocono Raceway last Sunday give the event rave reviews.

Brandon Igdalsky, the track president and CEO, rated the weekend "an overwhelming success." "Professor" Mario Andretti penciled in an "A-plus" for the event.

"The reaction from fans, the drivers and IndyCar was an overwhelming success," Igdalsky said Tuesday. "We were really happy with the crowd."

Next year, for the second race in Pocono's 3-year deal with IndyCar, Igdalsky said they may try to concentrate the crowd in the middle sections of the grandstand that seats a reported 60,000.

"But some fans want to sit [near] Turns 1 and 3," he said.

The next two Pocono IndyCar races also will be on Fourth of July weekend. After apologizing to fans for traffic congestion after the race, Igdalsky said better traffic flow will have to be worked out. There was a long backup Sunday afternoon southbound on the Northeast Extension, with holiday weekend travelers also heading home. [Editor's Note: AR1.com did research and found the traffic snarls were mainly because of two major accidents, one that closed I-80 eastbound and the other that closed the Northeast Extension of the PA Turnpike southbound because of an accident in the Lehigh Tunnel.]

One difference in next year's Pocono race may be extending the distance to 500 miles. Igdalsky noted the other races in the restored Triple Crown - Indianapolis and California - are 500 miles.

This year's Pocono race was a 400-miler, so it could air on ABC-TV in a 3-hour window. Since Sunday's race ended in a little more than 2 hours, a Pocono 500-miler with few delays might be over in 3 hours.

With an overnight rating of 1.1 for the Pocono race, organizer shouldn't be doing somersaults down pit road. The NASCAR Sprint Cup races on Fox averaged a 4.8 (6.9 million viewers). But Igdalsky was pleased because he said the 1.1 ties the second-highest IndyCar rating of the year (Texas, on a Saturday night).

Andretti, one of world's great racers with IndyCar and Formula One championships, was a devoted observer at Pocono, because his grandson, Marco, was racing. Andretti's son Michael, also a former IndyCar racer, had four cars in the event.

"I think the event is here to stay for the long term," Andretti said yesterday from his Nazareth home. "The venue is great and Pocono did a really nice job of promotion. I got a lot of feedback that the staff was so kind. That makes for a better experience. Even NASCAR fans that were there liked the show."

Andretti said the drivers and race teams "loved the area."

Three days after the race, Andretti still ached for Marco and his devastating experience. After setting the track qualifying record Marco, led the most laps (88) before he dropped back with a fuel-mileage issue, finishing 10th.

Addressing speculation that Marco, winless in 2 years, used too much fuel when he was leading, Mario said, "He was behind the eight ball halfway through the race. He needed another yellow; then, he would've been OK.

"My heart went out to him. The poor kid couldn't have been more unlucky. He was the quickest throughout testing, [qualifying] and the race. He did his job. I'm seeing something I've never seen before in him. He's in control of the situation, he's quietly confident."

One other racing person rooting for IndyCar success at Pocono is Bobby Rahal. The three-time series champion and 1986 Indy 500 winner is aware that IndyCar must develop younger fans.

"I hope it's successful. It's a good area for racing," he told me before the race. "We really haven't had much of a footprint on the East Coast. This is close to major population centers.

"Racing, as a whole, needs to get more younger fans. It's an interesting challenge, because, for so many kids today, video games are almost more intriguing than real life. When people come out and see it, they get hooked."

The IndyCar series will race on the streets of Baltimore Sept. 1.

Down the road, if IndyCar race attendance is comparable to Pocono's NASCAR crowds, Igdalsky and his brother Nick might want to think about hosting only one NASCAR race and moving the IndyCar race away from July 4 and its traffic problems.

Since Pocono's road course has been repaved, Igdalsky is considering a road race. Weather in the Poconos limits the racing window to mid-May through mid-September. Pocono Raceway: a happening racin' place. Philadelphia Daily News

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