LONG POND – Last year, IndyCar racing returned to Pocono Raceway for the first time in 24 years. The buzz surrounding the race was palpable, with fans and drivers alike eager to see what the cars were capable of at the newly repaved track.
The early returns were promising, with cars posting blazing speeds and drivers praising the circuit and facilities in the weeks and months leading up to the race.
But the buildup didn’t quite deliver, with an estimated crowd of 35,000 turning out for last year’s race. And the pressure was recently heightened when track President and CEO Brandon Igdalsky hinted that 2014 could be the series’ last visit to “The Tricky Triangle” for quite a while if the turnout doesn’t improve.
In order to combat the low numbers, changes such as increasing the distance from 400 to 500 miles were made, in addition to continuing the race’s inclusion as part of INDYCAR’s revamped Triple Crown in hopes of generating more interest in the event.
While concern remains over just how many fans will show up for Sunday’s race, those who have seen what the track and series have to offer would be saddened to see it go so soon.
“I would be disappointed, definitely,” said Betty Ann Grochal of Meshoppen, who has been coming to the track since 1976. “I was so excited when I found out that IndyCars were coming back.”
Grochal, who typically comes to the NASCAR races in June and August, enjoys the interaction the INDYCAR Series provides compared to its more popular stockcar counterpart.
“There are a lot of differences between the two, especially when you have a pit pass,” she said. “Drivers will stop and talk to you and sign autographs. With NASCAR, it’s like they don’t have the time for that. I’ve been really impressed with the driver and fan interaction here. I think this is great.”
Grochal isn’t the only one that thinks the environment at the track is fan friendly.
“I think that you definitely have a little more access during this weekend,” said Kevin White, who has been coming to the track with Grochal for the last 12 years. “But I think that might be just because it’s not as crowded. It’s always nice to have a little more room. But you don’t want it to be too sparse, because that means nothing’s going on.”
While there is enough happening over the course of a weekend to draw fans such as White and Grochal from roughly 45 minutes away, the track’s reach also extends beyond Northeastern Pennsylvania.
“I’ve been coming here for the last two or three years to the NASCAR and car club races,” said Hideki Matsuno of Long Island, New York. “But this is very different, obviously. The cars go very fast down the front straightaway, and it’s a totally different experience.”
And it’s one Matsuno was also able to enjoy with his young son, Eric.
“So far, it’s been really nice,” he said. “This is his first time here and I’m happy that he gets to see some of this.”
For as much as the on-track action matters, so too do the amenities.
While generally pleased with the recent improvements made to the parking lots and other facilities, White and Grochal had a few suggestions for areas that could still use some improvement.
“When it rains, there’s nowhere to go,” White said referencing the adverse weather that typically seems to be a factor over the summer months. “You can go under (the stands) but it drips. There’s nowhere to go, unless you want to stand in the bathroom for two hours.
“There’s really only one pavilion at the far end of the track and you’re almost on top of each other. They could really use more pavilions for a situation like that,” White said.
Inside the track, issues such as more (and bigger) video screens along with an extended scoring tower were topics of concern when it came to enhancing the race day experience.
Minor gripes aside, the fans seem to like what the track has to offer. Now, if only more would come and take advantage of it.
“I hope it’s not the last time they come here,” White said. “I really like being able to watch this and hope it continues.”