Not many promoters are willing to take a gamble on an oval-track race for Indy cars these days but the Igdalsky brothers gave it a shot at Pocono over the weekend and may have laid the foundation to have a future.
Sure, the massive grandstand wasn’t half full and the infield didn’t resemble the masses at a NASCAR race but considering Indy cars had been away for 24 years it was encouraging.
No official figures were released but counting grandstands, bleachers, suites and the campers an estimate of 30,000 seemed to be in the ballpark.
“We had a number in mind and we were happy with the outcome,” said Brandon Igdalsky, the president and CEO of Pocono International Raceway who took a flyer on IndyCar after meeting Randy Bernard at St. Petersburg in 2012.
“Listening to the drivers, fans, teams and within the industry it was well received and based on everything I’ve seen so far I’m not upset.”
Added Nick Igdalsky, the executive VP and COO at Pocono: “It exceeded our expectations.”
So let’s be clear on expectations. A track that drew 100,000 back in 1971 when it debuted as the third leg of USAC’s Triple Crown will likely never see that number again.
It’s believed Pocono needed 25,000 to have a shot at breaking even and that was before Sunoco came on board as presenting sponsor.
But 30,000 for any Indy-car show (other than IMS) has to be regarded as a decent number nowadays and the way the Igdalsky boys went about their business it’s not a stretch to say 50,000 could be attainable by 2015.
First off, they promoted the hell out of Indy’s return to the tricky tri-oval. It was on radio and television stations non-stop and got a nice ride from all the nearby newspapers in Allentown, Scranton and Wilkes-Barre as well as some hits in Philadelphia.
More importantly, they priced tickets wisely – general admission $25 with access to bleachers in the lower main grandstand and half off any seat for any children 12 & under. Higher seats ranged from $65 to $100.
And the fact it’s a three-year deal gives Pocono a fighting chance even though it’s sandwiched around two Sprint Cup races.
“When I sat down with Randy to try and finalize this I was adamant about having the same date (July 4th weekend) and three years,” said Brandon Igdalsky, the oldest grandson of Pocono founder Joe Mattioli.
“I think you need three tries at it and that’s why we did it, to try and get some momentum. After three years (if) it’s not where we hoped and losing money then we have to look at things again.”
Unlike trying a Denver, San Jose or Homestead, Fla., there was not only Indy-car history at Pocono but open-wheel racing in general all through Pennsylvania. Midgets and sprints always packed ‘em in at Williams Grove, Reading, Penn National, Grandview, Lernerville and Selinsgrove. Many of the fans attending last weekend were staples at Trenton, Nazareth or the old Pocono 500. They were knowledgeable as well as enthusiastic.
“I’ve had people tell me for years we needed to bring back Indy cars and the Triple Crown,” said Brandon Igdalsky.
Igdalsky hopes to have a 500-miler in 2014 (it was set at 400 miles because ABC only had a three-hour window) but it only took two hours and four minutes for Scott Dixon’s victory.
“We’re certainly open to making it 500 miles next year and maybe we’ll have the Lights race on Sunday morning to try and give the fans more bang for their buck,” he said.
Having a title sponsor obviously helps and he expects Sunoco back in some capacity and it would be nice if there could be 10 more cars to provide more traffic.
But it was a promising start in trying to restore one of the classic race tracks with the series it was built for. And Brandon only had one regret.
“If Marco (Andretti) could have won I think we could have come damn close to selling out the grandstand because the crowd was crazy for him.
“We still got a Pennsylvania winner (Chip Ganassi is from Pittsburgh) but an Andretti win would have been the perfect ending to our first time back together.”
But the best news for IndyCar fans is that after trying to run ovals with one organization that barely lifted a finger to help, it’s finally found a partner that wants to make it work.