Pocono, Still Doing It Doc’s Way

49 years after track founders Drs. Joe and Rose Mattioli hosted their first race on a three-quarter-mile oval, Pocono Raceway is the last family-owned and operated motorsports facility to host races sanctioned by both NASCAR and IndyCar.

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LONG POND, PA - JUNE 07: Carl Edwards, driver of the #19 ARRIS Toyota, Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet, and Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet, race three-wide at the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Axalta 'We Paint Winners' 400 at Pocono Raceway on June 7, 2015 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Editor’s Note: After this story was published in the July issue of SPEED SPORT Magazine, Brandon Igdalsky resigned as CEO of Pocono Raceway and has gone to work for NASCAR. Igdalsky’s brother, Nick Igdalsky, has taken over as Pocono Raceway CEO.

The following link is to the story about Brandon Igdalsky’s new job. —  https://speedsport.com/nascar/monster-nascar-cup/nascar-bolsters-leadership-team/

Pocono Raceway has always been a little bit different.

Nestled in the resort region of Pennsylvania’s picturesque Pocono Mountains, the unique triangular shape of the 2.5-mile race track makes it unique among this country’s major motorsports facilities.

But today, 49 years after track founders Drs. Joe and Rose Mattioli hosted their first race on a three-quarter-mile oval, there is another aspect that separates the track from its peers.

In an industry dominated by a pair of publicly traded companies, Pocono Raceway is the last family-owned and operated motorsports facility to host races sanctioned by both NASCAR and IndyCar.

“We are more nimble and we can make changes a little quicker,” Brandon Igdalsky told SPEED SPORT when asked about the advantages of guiding a family business. “It gives us the ability to fail. It gives us the ability to go out on a limb and try something that other people may or may not be willing to try, or because they are publicly traded they can’t try. I always say if I have a lawyer call me and say, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ My question is: ‘Is it illegal?’ If the response is no, then let’s do it.”
That’s the exact approach “Doc” Mattioli utilized in guiding Pocono Raceway from its groundbreaking until failing health forced him to hand the reins to two of his grandchildren, Brandon and Nick Igdalsky, in August 2011. The family patriarch passed away on Jan. 26, 2012, at the age of 86.
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Today, the Igdalsky brothers continue to operate the family business. Brandon is the president and CEO of Pocono Race­way, while his brother Nick is the chief operating officer.

04 June, 2016: Joey Logano’s Sprint Cup car is maneuvered in the garage area before practice for NASCAR’s Axalta We Paint Winners 400 at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Penn. (HHP/David Tulis)

“I was 13 in April of 1989 when my grandfather grabbed me and gave me this pinch on the shoulder that he used to do that would literally drop you to your knees,” Brandon Igdalsky recalled. “He looked at me and said, ‘Come June, your ass is mine.’ And I thought, ‘What the hell does that mean?’ The day after the June race in 1989 I moved in with my grandparents. I spent my summers living with them and working at the track. That first year, I was on the garbage and sewer plant crew.”

Igdalsky learned countless lessons during his formative years in the business, but there is one piece of advice from his grandfather that stands out.

“Don’t be afraid to fail. One of the key pieces of advice he gave me early on was that succeed or fail at least you’re learning something,” Igdalsky explained. “That stuck with me with a lot of things that I do in life because you have to be willing to take a chance. Something may sound crazy and it may look crazy on paper, but at the end of the day your gut is your best adviser.”

“Don’t be afraid to fail. One of the key pieces of advice he gave me early on was that succeed or fail at least you’re learning something,”

Since the Great Recession, which started in December 2007 and lasted 18 months, several major motorsports facilities have greatly reduced their seating capacity by removing grandstands. Pocono Raceway is not among that group and Igdalsky says it’s because of his grandfather’s foresight.

“When everyone was going through the major growth stages during the 1990s, ‘Doc’ was really smart in how he did it. Because he didn’t have shareholders to answer to, he was able to just build what he needed,” Igdalsky said. “Build what the parking lots could sustain, build what the roadways could sustain and he never got too big. A lot of tracks were way over 100,000 and we never got to that point.

“He realized what the area infrastructure could hold and what the track infrastructure could hold without making major improvements — and that’s where he found the balance,” Igdalsky continued. “Then early, I guess in the mid-2000s, he decided we were going to change the seats, so we went from an 18-inch seat to a 22-inch seat. Early on he tweaked the seating a little bit and we lost some seats, not that many but we lost some seats. Then all of a sudden when the economy crashed it looked better for us because we had already adjusted our seats. It wasn’t really a scramble afterward; it was that we made the move before that happened just for the comfort of the fans and it worked out. ‘Doc’ was always pretty good at stumbling onto those early foresight moments and this one worked out really well for us in the long run.”

In recent years, Igdalsky and his staff have focused on the fan experience in order to keep current fans coming back and attract new ones.

“A couple of years ago we went on a big fact-finding mission with some fans to figure out what they want out of our facility. We compiled a list of priorities from that,” Igdalsky said. “One thing was the sightlines, but, obviously, we can’t rebuild our grandstand to give better sightlines, and with turn two being so far away from the grandstand, so we decided, OK, we’ll add video boards. We added video boards both on the pit-in and pit-out sides so all of the grandstand seats have access to those.

“Camping is a big driver for our fans and everyone likes to come out and camp at a race, so we made the video boards double-sided so the fans in the infield have access to the same video boards and they can see the action from their RVs,” he added. “Typically, they don’t have that access unless they are running the broadcast on their satellite. That was one thing we did. Another thing we did was with the size of the facility it’s hard for fans to get around, especially if they’ve never been here before, so we put a whole new way-finding package together. We upgraded signage and upgraded the way fans find their seats, get to their seats. We made the process simpler for fans, but at the same time we’ve added more things for them to do when they get here. Whether it’s working with our partners to bring in more interactive stuff for them to do or bringing in entertainment options.

“In the infield, we added the Block Party about seven years ago now. So on Friday and Saturday nights in the infield, we have bands, fun and games, things going on for kids and adults of all ages. We’ve got Wiffle ball fields, we’ve got those clear balls that you get in and bounce around into each other. We’ve also got zip lines and all kinds of crazy stuff in our infield for fans. Then on Saturday night, we actually open the infield up to the general public. We work with our local fire department and they collect a donation that goes directly to the fire department. People can come in and we have a big fireworks show that’s part of the infield Block Party.

LONG POND, PA – JUNE 07: Carl Edwards, driver of the #19 ARRIS Toyota, Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet, and Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet, race three-wide at the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Axalta ‘We Paint Winners’ 400 at Pocono Raceway on June 7, 2015 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)

“It’s really a simple message — we’re here to have a good time. We are a sports property, but whether you like racing or not it’s a great place to bring your family,” Igdalsky continued. “It’s cheaper than going to a stick-and-ball venue and spending a gazillion dollars for a day with the family. You can come here and for 100 bucks you can get four hot dogs, four Cokes and four tickets. We’re really pushing the family aspect. I have kids, my brother has kids and a lot of our executives at the track have kids, so we have our own internal focus group per se.”

“It’s really a simple message — we’re here to have a good time. We are a sports property, but whether you like racing or not it’s a great place to bring your family,”

In addition to its two Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series events and the annual visit by the Verizon IndyCar Series, Pocono Raceway is a beehive of activity.

“We open in April and we close in October. We run between 180 and 250 track days during that time,” Igdalsky noted. “Looking at our facility, we have multiple courses. We can run basically up to three track layouts simultaneously, plus use the parking lots and the area around the track for additional events. We’ve had four events going on simultaneously, but most weekends we have two or three events going on whether it’s car clubs, driving schools; we’ve got the warrior dash that comes in.

“If somebody’s got an event that’s looking for land, we’ve got the ability to do it. Even our Wing Fest that we added last year has been pretty successful. Restaurants come out, prepare wings and have a wing competition. Fans can come in, eat wings all day and have some beer.”

Unfortunately, for fans of short-track racing there are no plans to bring back Pocono Raceway’s three-quarter-mile asphalt oval that played host to the Race of Champions modified event for several years.

“That’s the one thing ‘Doc’ always said was his biggest regret was taking that track out,” Igdalsky said. “But we haven’t had any discussions about bringing it back. With the infrastructure we have now, it would cost a ton for us to put that back. But who knows what the future will hold.”
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