CONCORD, N.C. — This isn’t how the team at Pocono Raceway wanted the season to go, but they’re making the best of a bad situation.
Originally announced in March of 2019, Pocono Raceway remains on track to become the first facility to host back-to-back NASCAR Cup Series events on consecutive days in the modern era.
Pocono Raceway CEO Nick Igdalsky said ticket sales were looking strong for the event scheduled for June 26-28, which was also slated to include the NASCAR Xfinity Series, NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series and the ARCA Menards Series.
“The initial signs that we were showing up until March were astounding,” Igdalsky said. “We absolutely loved what we were seeing. We were seeing growth that we haven’t seen in 15 years. It’s safe to tell you that we saw growth for both races, both the Saturday and Sunday races, well over 30 percent.
“We were trending to absolutely selling out the infield well in advance of the event and we added 800 new spots in 2020.”
All that changed when the COVID-19 pandemic brought the motorsports world to a screeching halt and forced those within the industry to plan events without fans in attendance for the foreseeable future.
“It is a substantial hit for the raceway, bottom line, and also the area visitor’s bureau,” Igdalsky added later. “We have an amusement tax here that is applied to a lot of what they do and, obviously, that’s not going to be collected this year with no fans being in attendance.
“It was an amazing experiment,” Igdalsky later added. “It started off unbelievably and then obviously went cold once the pandemic hit. We saw numbers that were stunning, that we were really blown away with. We’re hoping that NASCAR gives us the opportunity to run this event in this format again in ’21 because it had tremendous promise.”
The one upside is that unlike many other facilities on the NASCAR calendar, Pocono Raceway did not postpone or reschedule races this year. They will still be run as scheduled June 26-28, but without fans.
The ARCA Menards Series is scheduled to compete at Pocono on June 26 at 6 p.m. The next day, June 27, the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series will compete at 12:30 p.m., followed by the first NASCAR Cup Series event at 3:30 p.m. On June 28, the NASCAR Xfinity Series will race at 12:30 p.m., followed by the second NASCAR Cup Series event at 4 p.m.
Igdalsky admitted Pocono officials were open to rescheduling the events.
“The discussions were had for multiple dates. Wherever it needed to go, we were willing to accommodate,” Igdalsky said. “As it came down to the wire, Governor (Tom) Wolf gave us the green light so that didn’t have to be executed.”
Under Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s re-opening plan, counties in the yellow phase can begin the re-opening process. Monroe County, where Pocono Raceway is located, is currently in the yellow phase of the re-opening process. There are still many restrictions in place, including limiting gatherings to fewer than 25 people.
As part of Governor Wolf’s plan, sports facilities in the state are allowed to open for events with no fans in attendance when the counties they are in reach yellow or green status.
“We weren’t even sure if we were going to be in the yellow phase or the green phase the way everything was trending for quite some time,” Igdalsky said. “Planning on those would take significantly longer to be able to come up with a plan.
“Let’s just get the races in, give the fans an opportunity to have some entertainment at home on TV. We’re going to pack them all into this weekend, five races in three days. Hopefully, the time they spend close to home will be a little more enjoyable.”
Igdalsky said that while the lost revenue from track rentals and fan attendance hurts the bottom line, the track is in no danger financially.
“We’ve survived times harder than this financially,” Igdalsky said. “Back in our history it’s no secret that Doc (Mattioli, Pocono Raceway founder) was bankrupt several times trying to get this track up and running until really the last ’70s and ’80s when it took off. Tough times are not something that we haven’t had to deal with before and we’re prepared to deal with them again. We’ll be back next year stronger and better than ever.”