Pocono track finally looking like winner

On Motor Sports

July 25, 1999|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Folks around Long Pond, Pa., in the early 1960s would have a difficult time recognizing Pocono Raceway now. In fact, even the race teams who were here last season gasped last month when they came to Pocono.

The track, long criticized as one of the worst on the circuit in terms of facilities for the competitors as well as for fans, has become a showplace.

Over the past 10 years, owners Joe and Rose Mattioli have been slowly working toward remaking Pocono. This week, as the Winston Cup Series was about to arrive for The Pennsylvania 500, its second race of the season here, Joe talked about how difficult it was to take the criticism and how grateful he and his wife are for what they now have.

It started with the Mattiolis guaranteeing the original $150,000 mortgage on the property in 1961 and it became their life's work with a $5 million loan in 1972. The loan almost destroyed the Mattioli's vision, as the interest rates rose to 20 percent.

"We nearly went bankrupt three times," Joe says. "But the bank worked with us and we've paid back every penny. And then, came the unbelievable growth of the sport."

The growth of stock car racing enabled the Mattiolis to turn what once looked like a lump of coal into gold.

"The criticism about the track and the lack of improvements never really bothered me because I knew why we weren't making those improvements," Joe says. "We just weren't able to. What hurt was the implications that we didn't know any better. We took the criticism for a good 10 years."

Then, slowly, they started their renovations. In total, the Mattiolis have spent from $30 million to $32 million upgrading and rebuilding facilities since 1990, improving everything from the infield to the unseen water and sewer operations.

"We've virtually rebuilt every bit of our track," says Joe. "Last winter we totally rebuilt the garages and the auxiliary facilities. We built 2,000 new club seats and 15,000 new grandstand seats."

Beginning next Sunday, they'll begin replacing the toilets, refurbishing the main grandstand area and then, finally, beautifying all the grounds.

Joe Mattioli, 74, couldn't resist a sigh of satisfaction. A former Philadelphia dentist, he and Rose fell in love with motor sports and their track in the Pocono Mountains. Though they still own a house in Philadelphia, "because Rose likes to go shopping," they live year-round in an apartment near Turn 2 of their 2.5-mile track.

"It was a hard beginning," says Joe, whose property now totals 1,500 acres. "But we worked hard and listened to Bill France [Sr.], when he told us not to sell out. Now, I can say truthfully, that there is not a racetrack in the country where the principals appreciate what they have as much as we do. This track is still not beautiful, but when we get it all finished, it's going to be."

Ride for kids

Motorcycle riders interested in helping a good cause are invited to participate in the 1999 Ride for Kids that benefits the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation of the United States, Sept. 19 in Columbia.

Registration begins at 8 a.m. and closes at 8: 45 at the Mall in Columbia. The ride will begin at 9 a.m., rain or shine.

The local contact is Jackie Cooke, 410-880-4031, for those interested in participating or pledging support.

History? maybe not

Dale Jarrett says his irritation over Jeff Gordon bumping him into a wall two week's ago at Loudon, N.H., is history. But last weekend at Myrtle Beach, S.C., Jarrett couldn't resist when NASCAR SpeedPark offered him the opportunity to put Gordon's look-alike No. 24 mini-car into a wall.

"I just had a little fun there," Jarrett says. "As far as Jeff and I are concerned, that's over and done. But I know a little more now about how we're going to race each other. That's what I've always tried to do: race a guy the way he races me."

Nuts and bolts

The National Hot Rod Association has had the word "National" in its name for 48 years, but is just now implementing a national marketing campaign. Last March, the NHRA hired a global public relations firm to broaden the scope of the sport's communications efforts.

Last month, it forged a partnership to secure a long-term, high-profile television contract. And last Monday, the association hired a national ad agency to install the new marketing plan.

Import series

The National Import Racing Association has sanctioned an Import Drag Series that comes to Maryland International Raceway in Budds Creek today. Called "The Next Generation of Racing," it features Hondas, Acuras and other imports and runs from 8: 30 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the track near Mechanicsville.

Pub Date: 7/25/99

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