Thursday, July 4, 2013

Good to see IndyCar back at Pocono

I’m stoked about IndyCar finally – after 24 years (!) – returning to Pocono.

Rebooting the Triple Crown – even with the Pocono race only 400 miles – can differentiate IndyCar and perhaps give it a boost.

One key point of the original Triple Crown – Indianapolis, Pocono and long-gone Ontario – was that each race was anchored around a national holiday. Indianapolis was tied to Memorial Day, of course; Pocono was held around Independence Day and Ontario had Labor Day.

The Pocono date quickly shifted to middle or late June (sort of close to July 4, I suppose), then mid-August to off the calendar completely after the 1989 event.

Pocono – like Indianapolis – also was caught in the crossfire of the original CART-USAC split from 1979-81, resulting in lawsuits, confusion, disgruntled competitors and angry fans. (Sound familiar?)

The 1981 race is notable for being A.J. Foyt’s last IndyCar win and because it included eight dirt cars to round out the field.

Ontario Motor Speedway was dogged by financial troubles almost from the start and could not maintain the momentum from a promising debut in 1970 (Pocono’s first race was in 1971).

For two years (1974 and ’75) the California 500 was run in March, but for the most part the race date was consistently in late August/early September.

Both Pocono and Ontario borrowed some key Indianapolis traditions – 33-car lineups, separate qualifying weekends, queens.

Pocono in particular mirrored many of the Indianapolis non-racing activities with a mayor’s breakfast, festival queen’s ball and victory dinner (or bruncheon, as noted in the 1971 program).

My earliest memory of Pocono was the 1973 race. I remember our family listening to the race on the radio (probably on WIBC) and groaning when Roger McCluskey ran out of fuel on the last lap, handing the win to Foyt.

Twenty-four years is a long time to be away, but the early indications are promising. Let’s hope Sunday’s race opens a new chapter at this one-of-a-kind triangular track.