Pocono Twin Bill weekend loses luster without fans on the track

LONG POND, Pennsylvania (AP) – The billboard at the entrance to the Pocono Raceway shows photos of Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch and the “very first NASCAR Doubleheader” in bold type.

The kicker comes at the bottom of the panel: “Kids Free”.

A grand gesture – and useless.

Keep the children at home. Their parents too. Yes, even you charlize theron. After allowing a small number of fans to participate in races in Florida and Alabama, none will be allowed in this weekend’s races in Pocono.

The absence stings a bit more this season for a track that first hosted a Cup race in 1974. Pocono is the site of a Cup Series Twin bill, with a race on Saturday, one on Sunday, and the second race comes with a twist. The terrain for Sunday’s race will be established by reversing those arriving on the first lap of race no. 1.

The tri-oval runway has had its effects over the years, and the enthusiasm of the pilots – and fans expected to bring their wallets and pack the inner field for a Pocono Party that no one can remember – was through the roof.

Reigning Cup champion Joey Logano noted in this year’s Daytona 500 how Pocono had a distinct feel.

“Pocono was just a race at Pocono. It was not a big deal, “he said. “Now it’s an event. There are two races in one weekend and it’s a cool way to make it a big event. “

Not anymore. The big news on the track Friday – definitely not in sports where Bubba Wallace continues to dominate national headlines – was the opening of Pocono Organics regenerative organic farm.

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“We had something amazing but things are changing,” said Nick Igdalsky, CEO of Pocono. “We have to change course and adapt. This is what we do. It’s bittersweet. It’s really bitter that we can’t have fans here. It was going to be one of the most spectacular events we have had in decades. “

Talladega Superspeedway was allowed to accommodate up to 5,000 fans for its racing weekend and only 1,000 of them, mostly military personnel and their guests, were allowed two weeks ago at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Pocono is located in Monroe County, which has entered the Pennsylvania Green Designation. The green phase limits public gatherings to 250 people. But the advice of Governor Tom Wolf to professional sports does not impose any spectator, even in green.

“Honestly, for me, it’s the house full or nothing,” said Igdalsky. “We want to see this. This is what makes us happy. ”

Igdalsky declined to process expected attendance figures, but said the track had experienced 30% growth in sales.

“Our infield was already at 80% capacity in March and that’s when we also added, before we started selling tickets, 800 new places on the infield,” he said. .

Joe Gibbs Racing has drivers who have won the last five races at Pocono (although Martin Truex Jr’s victory in 2018 came with Furniture Row Racing) and Denny Hamlin won his fifth Cup race on the track last season. Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas Racing are 5-1 favorites on Saturday.

“I don’t have to learn more there and maybe some of the new drivers will make greater progress from race to race,” said Hamlin.

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Saturday’s race is set at 325 miles and Sunday takes place at 350 miles, in stages from the traditional 400.

Igdalsky, who said he didn’t have to fire or lay off Pocono employees, never considered asking to move the race weekend in hopes of welcoming fans later . Pocono hosted high school graduation ceremonies and asked NASCAR greats Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon to send video messages to the students.

It will be a busy weekend: after an ARCA race on Friday, the Truck Series and Cup race has been set for Saturday and the Xfinity Series has been scheduled for Sunday before the second Cup race. The compressed NASCAR schedule since resuming sport following the coronavirus pandemic has scraped some of the sparkle from non-stop racing, leaving Pocono confident he will get another double hit in 2021.

“We will keep everything for next year,” said Igdalsky.

Source: AP News

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