Jimmy Spencer, notable for being a fat, loudmouthed buffoon of a NASCAR driver who became a fat, loudmouthed buffoon of a Speed Channel commentator, has decided in this week's leadup to NASCAR's Pensylvania 500 to call out the Mattioli Family, owners of Pocono Raceway, on their lack of safety improvements to the facility.
Certainly, I'd like all racetracks to be as safe as humanly possible so that we can have incidents such as Mike Conway's at Indianapolis, which could've easily killed a driver about 20 years ago, and the driver still has their life and their career. Spencer cites the efforts of Speedway Motorsports, Inc, and International Speedway Corp. -- admittedly a good deal richer than the Mattiolis -- in improving their tracks after complaints come up about safety or fan amenities.
The Mattiolis, perhaps because they don't have the vast resources of these larger companies, have put in SAFER Barriers in the turns, but that's about it. The inside of every piece of the track, save the pit area, is lined with an old-style Armco barrier. Apart from spectator areas and the area that crosses the infield access tunnel, there is no catch fencing on the outside of the track. Case-in-point: Kasey Kahne's car rode the top of the wall on the final lap of the Pocono 500 and, had physics not been so kind, could have fallen off the track and into a forest. Just for some reference, deaths such as Jim Clark's were caused by a car going into a forest.
Now, since this is a NASCAR track and Spencer is a NASCAR commentator, this is all very taxicab-centric for the moment. HOWEVER!! Pocono Raceway used to be a staple of the IndyCar championship with both USAC and CART. It was one of three tracks in the Triple Crown of 500-mile races back in the "good ol' days". The list of IndyCar Pocono 500 winners reads like a hall of fame of American open-wheelers (and Teo Fabi).
Plus, it's easily the single coolest oval track in the nation. Whereas most tracks are based on old horse racing ovals, clones of Charlotte, or smaller versions of Daytona, Pocono is one of the lone holdouts from an era of entirely unique oval tracks. It has three wildly different turns, one based on Trenton's first turn, one based on any of Indianapolis' four corners, and one based on Milwaukee's flat sweepers. Engineers acclimated to the cookie-cutters that essentially have two identical corners glued to each other by straightaways or tri-ovals are given fits over the design lunacy of Pocono. You have to be a heck of a driver to take on the challenge of Pocono and survive.
Tying this all back together, one of the chief reasons IndyCars can't drive at Pocono is the fact that, should there be a crash, someone will probably have their career end. A few other details, like rough pavement are not quite as bad and easier to fix, but that safety issue is something that needs fixing. Do that and Pocono is suddenly opened back up to the world of open-wheel. Randy Bernard seems to be on a push for unique short ovals to really challenge the drivers, but he should really consider the world's most unique superspeedway if the management ever finds the time to make the improvements that their property so desperately needs.
Just as a bit of a disclaimer: This is a blog; not everything is to be taken with 100% seriousness like you might with something written by, say, Curt Cavin. He gets paid to be factual and on-deadline, and I don't. However, I will do my best to remain professional and at least somewhat based in fact. Danke.