I’ll admit I’m incredibly disappointed the IndyCar series will not be returning to Pocono Raceway in 2020.
Prior to the start of Sunday’s IndyCar race in Portland, the series released its schedule for the new year, and overall it’s very disappointing. I’m a fan of IndyCar oval track racing, and I’m disgruntled so many oval tracks — particularly high speed ovals like “The Tricky Triangle” — have been dropped from the schedule in recent years.
Although Pocono is treacherous for IndyCars, the raceway has produced some of the best IndyCar races in recent memory. Those races have also been far more competitive than the track’s NASCAR races.
That said, there are many layers to the decision for the series to not return to the track, many of which will likely never be made public.
According to media reports going back several months, track officials supposedly showed little interest in bringing IndyCars back to the facility in 2020 until they learned Pocono would be losing a NASCAR weekend in the coming year.
When the new NASCAR schedule was announced, Pocono was awarded a Cup series doubleheader, to be contested June 27-28. The primary reason behind the doubleheader appears to be NBC dictating that no motor races in divisions it carries will be contested in late July and early August to accommodate its coverage of the 2020 summer Olympics.
NBC’s emphasis on the Olympics — and deemphasis of motorsports — is also likely just one of many factors behind IndyCar dumping Pocono as the race has been contested in that timeframe over the last several years.
In recent weeks, Pocono officials have made it no secret they wanted the IndyCar series to return to the track in 2020.
Minutes after the 2020 schedule was announced, Pocono CEO Nick Igdalsky released a statement expressing his disappointment IndyCars would not be coming back to “The Tricky Triangle.”
“Thank you to all the fans that have supported Pocono over the years,” the statement read, in part. “We share in the disappointment of thousands who also dreamed of future open wheel races at ‘The Tricky Triangle.’”
Igdalsky also issued a “sincere thank you” to Mario Andretti for his “passionate support” of the track, as well as “those drivers who spoke in support of Pocono during their recent visit.”
This statement was made as there was a segment of drivers and team owners who made it no secret they felt Pocono was too dangerous for IndyCars. Those individuals were likely a key reason the series has opted to not return to the track.
Unfortunately, the same people crying that superspeedways are too dangerous for open wheel cars didn’t have a thing to say about road courses being dangerous following the weekend death of Anthoine Hubert during a violent crash during a Formula 2 race in Spa, Belgium.
The truth is, open wheel racing in general is dangerous, whether it’s contested on a road course or oval. As I, and many others, have written before that may unfortunately be part of the mystic of that form of racing.
While I largely blame the NBC, as well as IndyCar series officials, teams and drivers for the division not returning to Pocono, there are likely other reasons behind the move.
Not coincidentally, on the same day the 2020 schedule was announced, AJ Foyt announced ABC Supply Co. will not be returning as primary sponsor of his race team in the new year. The company will be curtailing its motorsports sponsorship.
ABC Supply Co., which was thanked by Igdalsky in his statement, was also the sponsor of the Pocono race since 2014. It was widely known that without that sponsorship, the race likely wouldn’t have been held.
With the company curtailing its motorsports support, that also meant an end of sponsorship of the Pocono race. In other words, the track didn’t have the funds available to cover an IndyCar sanctioning fee.
It is a bit of a slap in the face to Pocono — and race fans in the region — that the race is being replaced by a return to the short track in Richmond, Va., that will be contested on the same weekend as Pocono’s NASCAR race.
Given that Richmond will be the series’ closest race to the Poconos, holding that race on the same weekend as “The Tricky Triangle’s” NASCAR race means a lot of fans who enjoy attending both NASCAR and IndyCar races will have a tricky decision to make as to which race they wish to take in.
For me, 2020 will likely become just the second year since 1997 I will not attend an IndyCar race. That’s unfortunate, given how much I enjoy the series, particularly its oval-track races.
And now, Pocono has apparently gone from hosting three major racing weekends to one. That will undoubtedly have an impact on the track’s “bottom line,” as well as the “bottom line” of area businesses which are patronized by fans visiting the track.
I wouldn’t be surprise if the track attempts to add another racing weekend. But what form of racing will it partner with? Rallycross? Trans-Am? Vintage cars? Motorcycles? It will be interesting to see where the track turns in an effort to make up lost revenue.