Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Rising Junior Floats All

By Lee Spencer

Sunday morning there was a buzz in the garage with a bent decidedly leaning toward Dale Earnhardt Jr.

OK, from about the moment the transporters rolled into the garage, talk of the four-year anniversary of NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver permeated conversations and lines of questioning of other competitors. This was nothing new at Michigan International Speedway, or a lot of other places where Junior had excelled in the past, such as restrictor-plate or short tracks.

But as the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team picked up steam this season — and one top 10 after another — it became clear that Dale Earnhardt Jr. was a weekly contender at Daytona International Speedway and even Dover International Speedway.

While the Junior Express storyline at Michigan International Speedway was sidetracked by 200-plus-mph speeds, a new tire compound and a cameo by Bad Kurt Busch over the weekend, once race-day morning arrived and a couple of engines were changed, the black No. 88 Chevrolet became the topic of conversation again.

“A win for Dale Jr. would be a win for all of us,” said a friend.

Before skeptics start speculating that the message came from NASCAR or Chevrolet or Hendrick Motorsports, stop. The wish for Junior’s success came from a specialist who works on another team with another manufacturer.

He’s right. Like Tiger Woods winning a PGA event, Tim Tebow finding success in the NFL or LeBron James finally winning a championship, there are moments that are good for sports in general.

It’s also good for cynics who looked at Junior’s arrival at Hendrick Motorsports in 2008 as simply a souvenir grab to eat their words. Yes, the proceeds from sales of Junior T-shirts and die-casts could feed a small country. But Rick Hendrick’s commitment to turn the No. 88 team around has come to fruition.

And for those who insist the fix was in on Sunday, know this: If there was such a thing as ‘a fix,’ NASCAR would have fixed Junior’s winless drought long before now.

So for the ABJer’s (Anybody But Junior) — including Tony Stewart, who stirred things up with postrace comments questioning the significance of the win — suck it up. Sunday was a holiday for Junior Nation, and for many in NASCAR, particularly because Earnhardt and crew chief Steve Letarte are on a roll. Their average finish of 7.4 is no fluke.

“For me it is (a holiday),” Junior said with a laugh. “It feels good to win, and I’ll enjoy it, and in a day or two, I’ll be thirsty for the next one.”

Letarte would have been relieved for the group to win in its first season together in 2011 because he’s not sure they “had the speed last year” to accomplish the task. However, for both crew chief and driver, there’s the thrill of knowing that they’re just getting started.

“We had some good runs and we had some good cars; we had some consistency, but not like this year,” Letarte said. “I'm a true believer in statistics, and I don't think it's luck. I think you make your own luck. You get bad breaks along the way, but if you have a strong enough race team, and strong enough cars, then even the bad luck can't hold you down forever, and I think this year, we have earned this win.”

Earnhardt had three top fives and eight top 10s in the first 15 races of 2011. He’d led just 42 laps. While the team was consistent enough to remain third in the points standings, there was never the sense that the 88 team was a contender. This year, Earnhardt’s numbers are real and so is the threat. Six top fives, 12 top 10s and 218 laps led in the first 15 races are solid numbers.

Understandably, Letarte and Earnhardt are relieved to get the win behind them. But the anticipation of this team’s potential — owner Rick Hendrick called their chemistry “the best I’ve seen between any crew chief and driver” — is a reason for “excitement.”

“When you start to have winning cars, and then you finally win, it's excitement,” Letarte said. “ I don't think it's relief. Because now you have winning cars and you know that the hard work is paying off.

“That's why we are going to enjoy the win, but we are going to enjoy it to a point to where there's a lot of trophies left to get, and we want to get some more.”

Junior concurred.

“I thought it would be all relief,” Junior said. ”But it was no relief at all; it was excitement.”

Letarte And Junior Reach New Level

Steve Letarte essential part of Junior win...

By Larry McReynolds

We’ve talked all year about how Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the entire No. 88 team have been the perfect model of consistency. In my eyes, their win Sunday at Michigan International Speedway didn’t have to happen to solidify how serious he and the team are about their championship aspirations.

That said, winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup race Sunday took it to a whole new level.

Earnhardt Jr. and his team have simply had an incredible season so far. After Sunday, they have one win, 12 top-10 finishes, six top-five finishes and Dale Jr. sits only four points out of first place. Now with only 11 races until the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup field is set, Earnhardt Jr. has to be relieved.

Prior to Sunday, it had been four long years since he last won a NASCAR Sprint Cup points race. Sunday’s win will go a long way in silencing the naysayers and the Junior critics. He and his team have been consistent and now they are showing they are legitimate contenders. In the last two races, Dale Jr. has led 131 laps. Last year he led a total of 52 laps in the entire 36-race schedule.

It’s been well-documented that it had been four years and two days since Dale Jr. last won. Actually if you do the math, it had been 1,463 days since he won. After winning that race in 2008, he basically fell off the map for the rest of the season. I don’t see that happening this time. The team is too consistent and just too good right now to let that happen.

I, like a lot of others, feel the win Sunday at Michigan might be the springboard for a lot more wins before the season is over. Earnhardt Jr. and his Hendrick Motorsports team are running incredibly well and we just might see an outbreak of wins. I think the key in all this is crew chief Steve Letarte. He has been a part of championships and also the key in a lot of wins by Jeff Gordon.

I think he can keep himself, the race team and most importantly his driver, Dale Jr., grounded and not let them slack off. This weekend is going to be a huge test for them. Dale Jr. has made it known for years that he doesn’t like road-course racing and struggles with that type of driving. Sonoma has never been one of his stronger places to race, obviously.

Now that doesn’t mean he and his team can’t go out there Sunday and get a solid race and top finish under their belt and move on. We saw Sunday how, when things weren’t good, they didn’t panic and just focused on making the car better. It’s those little signs that show me they are where they need to be. They know they can’t sit still and have to keep moving forward.

They know very well the Jimmie Johnsons, Tony Stewarts and Matt Kenseths of the Cup world are not sitting still, so they can’t either. Earnhardt Jr. and his team have it all going their way right now. They are leading laps. They now have won their first race of the year. They are finishing in the top five or, when that isn’t possible, they are still pulling out top-10 finishes. That type of performance will win you a championship.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is in the best frame of mind I have seen him in years. The biggest thing he has going for him is what every driver needs – confidence. He has confidence again in himself. He believes in his race team and those guys and gals believe in him. They are just the real deal right now.

Obviously this was a very popular win for Junior Nation and for our sport. When the most popular driver in maybe all of motorsports breaks a four-year dry spell and celebrates in Victory Lane, well it is just pretty big.

I am very thrilled for Steve Letarte. He ended a 115-race winless streak himself. He is an awesome person. He is the perfect person who supports his team and his driver. He has done something that others weren’t able to do and that’s get NASCAR's most favorite son back to Victory Lane.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Ring the bell

By Joe Menzer
After long-awaited win, parade of admirers say Junior has sound of a champion

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- The stream of well-wishers and congratulatory hugs and handshakes kept coming Sunday in Victory Lane at Michigan International Speedway.

If Dale Earnhardt Jr. could have embraced everyone who cheered for him not only in the Quicken Loans 400 he had just won but through every heart-breaking moment of the past four years, he no doubt would have. Driving the No. 88 Chevrolet with a logo from the movie The Dark Knight Rises on the hood, Earnhardt had just captured Sunday's race in dominating fashion to break a four-year winless drought in Sprint Cup points races that had stretched to 143 events. In doing so, Earnhardt worked not only the crowd in attendance and many watching on television into a bona fide frenzy, but also apparently those who work with and around him, or even race against him.
Mike Helton, president of NASCAR, stopped by briefly to hug Earnhardt. Helton later told Sirius Radio that it's his belief that Earnhardt -- who sits second in the point standings, only four points behind leader Matt Kenseth -- now is the man to beat for this year's Sprint Cup championship.
Jimmie Johnson, who has won five of those, also dropped by to offer congratulations. Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet team shares a Hendrick Motorsports shop with Earnhardt and the No. 88 Chevy team that includes crew chief Steve Letarte.

"This is so great. I'm just proud of Junior. He's been chipping away at it for a while -- especially this year," Johnson said after congratulating his Hendrick Motorsports teammate in Victory Lane. "The communication and the camaraderie between he and Stevie and throughout our shop, I should say, has been amazing. Internally, we've seen this coming. I'm just happy for him to get this off his back now.

"That will shut anybody up who has had anything to say. There's only one way you really want to win -- and that's by kicking everybody's ass. And that's what he did today."

Indeed, he did. This time no fuel-mileage gambit was necessary -- as it was four years ago almost to the day when he last won at the same 2-mile track. This time there was no doubt. This was no fluke, and no one was snickering when Helton joined points leader Kenseth, Jeff Gordon and others in declaring that this season is shaping up as Earnhardt's best chance of winning his first Cup championship.

Earnhardt won by nearly six seconds over second-place finisher Tony Stewart and led a race-high 95 laps, more than twice as many as anyone else. As the race wound down, really the only demons he had to battle were in his own head as he steadily increased the gap between him and Stewart and the rest of the field.

"That was the worst feeling, riding around there with 15 laps to go," Earnhardt admitted. "I kept wondering what was going to happen, how you were going to lose. Those last 15 laps couldn't go by fast enough. ... I was in there, just going crazy. I'm looking all around the race track, looking for debris around the next corner. I just knew I was going to come around the next corner and see a big piece of metal laying in the middle of the race track.

"I was just waiting for something to happen. That was terrifying, to be honest with you. I kept thinking of Steve and the team and about how hard all of us have worked, and about how we deserved to win and how we should win -- and I was hoping it would happen for everybody."
Gordon, another Hendrick teammate and winner of four championships himself, also visited Earnhardt in Victory Lane after no mysterious metal pieces emerged on the track over the final laps.
"It's amazing for the sport," Gordon said. "You know it's going to be everywhere. It's going to be headlines and it's going to get a lot of attention -- as it should. I mean, he won. He did a great job, and he deserves all the credit in the world for it."

Couch laps and chemistry

Shortly after pulling into Victory Lane, Earnhardt was handed a cell phone. Rick Hendrick, the owner of Hendrick Motorsports, was on the other line.

Earlier, when Earnhardt had learned that Hendrick did not plan to be at MIS on Sunday, he had joked that Hendrick had better have a good excuse.
"I told him he'd better be on a boat somewhere in the Florida Keys," Earnhardt said.
Actually Hendrick was back at home in Charlotte, N.C., but he hardly found it a restful Father's Day as the afternoon wore on. After waiting out a two-hour rain delay before the dropping of the green flag, Hendrick gradually adopted the stance of a nervous father awaiting the birth of a child in the hospital waiting room.

"I was doing laps around my couch -- trying to end this race, man," Hendrick said. "Batman was in a hurry. I was too nervous to stand still. [Wife] Linda and I were just watching it, [saying], 'Come on, no problems.' I was so afraid there was going to be a caution, or something was going to happen."
Maybe now that this win is behind them, Earnhardt and Hendrick and Letarte can all begin to, well, not relax a little bit -- but at least eliminate some of the stark fear that obviously crept in toward the end of Sunday's race. But really, who could blame them? After running out of gas on the final lap at Charlotte last year, after running second at Martinsville and Kansas last season and again in this year's Daytona 500, only to come up short of Victory Lane every time, it was understandable that they had to wonder what bad thing might happen next.

This time, no gremlins blocked the path to the checkered flag. Afterward, Hendrick was added to the list of Junior fans who think this could be the 88 team's year.

"I think the chemistry is the best I've seen with any crew chief and driver," Hendrick said of Earnhardt and Letarte. "You just look at the way they've been running and how they had a lot of speed, you knew this was going to come. And you just try to say, 'Dale, don't worry about that stuff, man. You're almost leading the points here. You've got more top-10 [finishes] than anybody. When you run second, third and fourth, you're going to win races.'"

Gordon agreed, and noted the reaction of the throng at the Michigan track to Earnhardt's popular win.
"I mean, you heard the crowd," Gordon said. "We all know the pressure that's been on Junior. Not just on him, but on his entire team and Rick. This is an awesome accomplishment. Those guys have been so solid all year. It's hard to luck your way into one of these things these days. To be as high up in the points as they've been, to be as solid as they've been, it's a well-deserved win overall."

Staying power

Earnhardt brought a small bobblehead of Hendrick into the media center for his post-race winner's interview, plopping it down next to him in front of a microphone. Then he positively beamed out at the media gathered in front of him, able to bask in the glow of a Sprint Cup victory for the first time since Father's Day in June of 2008 at the same venue.

Asked what it meant to have so many fellow competitors and others rejoice in his latest victory, Earnhardt said: "I guess it means I'm an all-right dude, when people are happy for me and wanted to see me do good. That's the way I am about people. I want to see good people do good things. I want to see good people have success and be happy."
The bobblehead nodded its approval, and Earnhardt continued.
"I feel like we're getting stronger. One of the things we did last year throughout the season was kind of just maintain," he said. "Even though I was happy as hell to be with Steve and to be able to run well and be competitive, I was a little disheartened that we didn't progress through the year, really. We didn't find more speed as the year when on. We kind of stayed the same throughout the season. ... This year, we've gotten faster throughout the year. We started off pretty quick, and we've gotten quicker -- especially these last couple of weeks. That's been a thrill for me."

It wasn't just that he won Sunday. It was how he won.

"That race we won four years ago was a fuel-mileage deal, and today we just whupped 'em. That felt good," Earnhardt said.

He had complained bitterly the night before the race when an extra practice was added by NASCAR after a last-minute switch to new left-side tires. He said he didn't know what to expect, and was concerned when Letarte shut down the 88 after only 25 laps in the extra practice session.
"They made some changes [Friday] night that I wasn't too happy about," Earnhardt admitted. "But after the extra practice [Saturday], Steve was pretty confident. I was pretty nervous when the race started, because the car wasn't where we needed it to be. I didn't think we were in too big of trouble, but we needed some adjustments.

"At that moment, I guess I worry if Steve knows exactly where I'm at and what I need with the car, how much I need. But I guess he knows me well enough -- because he made the right calls and that thing took off flying. And then he made he made some pit-strategy choices that put us toward the front, to where the car could respond if we had a fast car -- and it did."

In other words, Letarte responded to Sunday's challenge and so did his driver. Earnhardt may have had the Dark Knight gracing the hood of his car, but he rode into Victory Lane like a White Knight for all of NASCAR.

Where they go from here is largely up to them. But before heading to the next race track, Earnhardt already had booked a visit to the Hendrick Motorsports complex to honor a tradition that previously had left him feeling left out.

"We've got this victory bell that I get to take around for the first time since we built it. I plan to ring that thing all over the complex," said Earnhardt, grinning. "I'm going to ring that damn thing as hard as I can."        

The drought is over! Junior back in Victory Lane

Earnhardt Jr. leads 95 of the 200 laps and cruises to first victory in four years

By NASCAR Wire Service
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- At the same venue that produced his last Sprint Cup victory, four years and two days removed from his most recent visit to Victory Lane, Dale Earnhardt Jr. broke the most talked-about, most frustrating streak in motorsports.
Pulling away from defending series champion Tony Stewart at the end of the final 60-lap green-flag run, Earnhardt won Sunday's Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway by a dominating 5.393 seconds to end a winless drought of 143 races.

"I know you guys have been waiting on that one," Earnhardt radioed to his crew after crossing the finish line. "I know I have."

As Earnhardt performed a wild celebratory burnout on the frontstretch, fans and crew members crowded around Victory Lane as the crowd in the grandstands stood and cheered.

The victory was the 19th in the Cup Series for Earnhardt, who solidified second place in the Cup standings, closing to four points behind leader Matt Kenseth, who ran third Sunday behind Earnhardt and Stewart.

Earnhardt overcame Goodyear's 11th-hour switch to a harder left-side tire, after blistering became an issue on the left sides originally supplied for the race. Earnhardt wasn't happy with the handling of his No. 88 Chevrolet during an extra practice Saturday night, but crew chief Steve Letarte found a combination that worked for the race.

Greg Biffle finished fourth, followed by five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who started from the rear of the field because of an engine change before the race but worked his way back into the top five.

Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer, Juan Montoya, pole-sitter Marcos Ambrose and Kevin Harvick completed the top 10.         

Earnhardt took the lead for the first time on Lap 70, when he passed Ambrose for the top spot. From that point on, his was the dominant car -- Earnhardt led a race-high 95 laps.

"Winning races is all you ever want," Earnhardt said in Victory Lane. "You work real hard to get there, and I've got to thank [team owner] Rick Hendrick, the whole organization, really, for sticking with me.

"They could have picked another route, but they stuck with me, and we're back in Victory Lane. I appreciate everybody's support -- Rick, the company, the fans, my team ... everybody.
The start of the race was delayed for nearly two hours by rain, but by the time NASCAR's most popular driver took the checkered flag, the track was bathed in sunshine.

About the only blight on the landscape was Tony Stewart's response to Earnhardt's long-awaited victory. Apparently tired of questions about Earnhardt's winless streak, Stewart resorted to sarcasm.
"It's no different than anybody else that does it -- it's not a national holiday, guys," Stewart said. "This morning they were celebrating the fourth anniversary of his last win, so I guess we're all in a state of mourning now, 'cause he's broke that string now, so I wonder what we're all supposed to think."
Kenseth, Earnhardt's longtime friend, was more gracious in his assessment of the breakthrough victory.

"This year you could see it going to be a matter of time," Kenseth said. "They've really been the guys -- that No. 88 has had a ton of speed. They haven't always gotten the finishes [because of] circumstances, but they've been battling up there in the top five each and every week. They've finished every lap.

"I'm really happy for him to get that win. The championship part, I think they're definitely a contender. They've been right up there in the mix each and every race, no matter what size or shape the race track. I think they're definitely, at this point in the season, one of the favorites."    

Quicken Loans 400

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Pocono 400 presented by #NASCAR

So close! Had they not made that last pit stop they would've probably won, but in the end Dale finished 8th. He led a lot of laps and had a bad fast race car. Standings are not posted yet, so I'll post it when I find out if he moved at all!

Next week the guys head to Michigan.

At Pocono, it's not quite the same without 'Doc'

I know this is a blog for Dale Jr, but this story has personal significance for me since I'm a Pennsylvanian and Pocono Raceway is close to not only my home, but also my heart. Pocono has always gotten a bad rap for how they've run their operation, but they have proven time and time again that sometimes running things a little differently is better than running things the conventional way. Here is an article from NASCAR.com written by David Caraviello. Thank you David for remembering "Doc" as we who loved him, love Pocono, and love NASCAR remember him.

LONG POND, Pa. -- The first indication that something is different at Pocono Raceway comes as you emerge from the tunnel, and see the large sign stripped above the track's primary infield road. "Welcome to Doc's place," reads the first of many testaments to Dr. Joseph Mattioli, founder of this
quirky triangular layout in the Pennsylvania hills. There's just one problem.

Doc would have hated it.

"He'd be furious about that. He'd be furious about that," said Pocono track president Brandon Igdalsky, also Mattioli's grandson. "But that's OK. He can yell at us all day long about that. I'm all right with it."

Mattioli, a Philadelphia dentist who bought a spinach farm off Interstate 80 and turned it into a major American racing venue, died in January at age 86. Along with his ever-present wife, Rose, the man they still lovingly call "Doc" was more than just Pocono's founder -- he was in many ways the track's spirit and identity, his nature reflected in so many personal touches like the spires looming over the grandstand or the names of champion drivers painted on large rocks. Doc did it his way, and that way was often unique and unconventional, and he left an indelible imprint on the employees and family members who continue to operate the facility.

And his passing has left a void as large as the 2.5-mile footprint of this race track. How much did Mattioli mean to Pocono? Consider that there had never, ever, been a race at this venue without him -- until now.

"It's definitely bittersweet, you know?" said grandson Nick Igdalsky, Pocono's vice executive president and chief operating officer. "You wish he was here. We're happy our NASCAR family is here, but ... it's going to be the first race ever without him. We've gotten over the emotion of the events in January, and that kind of brings it back to the front when you get back to the track this weekend, and you see everybody again."

So much of Pocono is timeless, and so much of that is by design, and all of it goes back to the man who caught the racing bug one Sunday afternoon at a dirt track in Nazareth, Pa., joined a group of investors developing what would become the current facility off Long Pond Road, and eventually became controlling partner. What originally was envisioned as a road course became a three-eighths oval, and then became a triangular superspeedway designed by two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rodger Ward, featuring corners modeled after those at tracks in Milwaukee, Trenton, N.J., and Indianapolis.

The design would not be the last idiosyncrasy. Stars arrayed around the tunnel entrance contain car numbers representing luminary drivers -- Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson and Darrell Waltrip, among others -- in Pocono's own unofficial hall of fame. Rose Mattioli is a horse-racing fan who always wanted to go to the Kentucky Derby, so her husband brought a little of Churchill Downs to her in the form of the twin spires (which are actually lightning rods) atop the grandstand, and a Mint Julep Club on the ground floor of Victory Lane. Even today, a bugler sounds the call to the post before every Pocono race.
That's all Doc, products of the man whose beard and booming voice were constants at this track for four decades. He could be demanding, he could be adamant, he could be blunt. But he also inspired unshakable loyalty on the part of those who worked for him at the race track, a group that came to include his children and grandchildren, who employ the lessons they learned still today. "We've all picked up different traits, I think, of his from the philanthropy side to how we conduct ourselves on a business side and personally," Nick said. "There are so many things he taught us, it's hard to pick a few."

Brandon calls it the School of Doc. "It's literally just absorbing everything that came out of the man's mouth," he said. "He would get going, and he would go on a rant. You just sit back and hang on, because he'd start telling one story and how he got to that point, and all the bad decisions he made to get to that success. From things like that to just basic business practice he's learned over the years, things a business professor would tell you you cannot do that. But at the same time, you're like -- hell, some of that stuff still works today. You've just got to know how to do it."

Drivers who have been coming to Pocono for a long time won't forget him, either. "It's definitely going to be different," said Jeff Gordon, a five-time winner at the track. "I built a great relationship with Doc over the years. Most of it was walking across the stage for driver introductions, he and Rose just always being present, the first ones you came across to greet. He just always was kind to me. He always had an ongoing joke with me he would say to me every time I walked across that stage. So this weekend it's going to be a lot different not hearing those words coming from him."

So no wonder this weekend is loaded with tributes to a man whose very personality is reflected in this unique, timeless place. The sign outside the tunnel was the idea of one of Brandon's twin 8-year-old daughters. Artist Sam Bass painted a tribute portrait of Mattioli that will appear on the cover of the race program, which also will feature a seven-page photo spread inside. Pre-race ceremonies will feature a moment of silence, the playing of Taps, a 21-cannon salute, and a 90-second video tribute. Sprint Cup cars are carrying a memorial sticker, "Doc," inside of a black triangle, and employees are wearing pins of the same design. The sticker and pin are also being sold at merchandise stands, with the proceeds going to a Mattioli Foundation that's donated roughly $6 million to causes around the region during the past five years.

Even though Mattioli would bristle at the idea of his name on something -- "He'd hate that part," Brandon said -- the tributes were natural. But they're also coming down like an emotional sledgehammer on family members who are revisiting the grief of their patriarch's passing all over again.

"It's awful," said Brandon, who can be as blunt as his grandfather was. "This week ... has been probably as tough as the week after his funeral, and that adjustment period. Race day is going to suck emotionally. I'm trying to prepare myself as much as I can. But I've spent the last few days driving around this place, and every time I stop somewhere, I think of something he and I did in that spot. And the crazy thing is, there are things coming back into my memory that I have not thought about in 20, 25 years. Stuff when I was a little kid. It's crazy. I feel him right there with me, though. They always say you feel your loved ones right there with you. I've never lost anybody that close to me, but I feel like he's sitting there, looking down and saying, 'Don't you screw this up. Don't you screw this up.' "

Yes, Doc would hate the tributes. He also might be a little uncomfortable with some recent changes made by track management, most notably a resurfacing project and a shortening of Pocono's NASCAR events from 500 to 400 miles. "There are some things we're doing that I know he's kicking our a-- for," Brandon said. But competitors have raved about most of the alterations, which included replacement of an antiquated inner guardrail with the SAFER barrier last year. "I think it'll bring some life back into this race track," Cup Series points leader Greg Biffle, once a vocal critic of Pocono's safety systems, said of the most recent changes to the 2.5-mile facility.

But for all the changes, so much at this track stays the same. It's still Doc's place, as it always will be. And Sunday the spectators will arrive and the cars will roll off the starting grid and Pocono will bask in its one-of-a-kind glory, which to Joseph Mattioli is always what mattered most.

"The emotions are very, very mixed," Rose Mattioli said. "We're going to miss him dreadfully, but we're going to do what he would want us to do, and continue, and make everything happen as though he was right there. And I know he would appreciate it."

Some interesting facts about Pocono Raceway:
• Joe "Doc" and Rose Mattioli were each successful doctors in Philadelphia, he a dentist, she a podiatrist. Both were extremely hard working. In October 1960, Doc had to operate alone on two patients and when it was over he had the shakes. At that point he made a snap decision. "I said, 'The hell with it,' and from that day on, I didn't do anything I didn't enjoy. I learned how to fly, ski, sail -? all things I'd wanted to do. I took a year off, then invested in Camelback Ski Area and other Pocono businesses."
• One day when Doc had flown into the Poconos, a gentleman he met in the airport tried to talk him into investing in a local project. Just to get rid of him he gave him his card and told him to let me know when he had his next meeting. Six weeks later he called. Doc came up and got involved. The original investors had optioned 1,025 acres, a spinach farm, but they didn't have any money. The Mattiolis guaranteed the mortgage and ended up putting more and more money into the project until eventually they became the majority owners. "The track wasn't my idea I just got sucked in through the back door because I knew it was a good buy on the land. All the money I'd made off my other Pocono businesses went into the race track."
• There was not enough funding to build a superspeedway so the owners first built a three-eighths-mile oval that was finished in 1968. The 2.5-mile track was completed two years later. In order to be the Pocono PFC (Pretty, Friendly, Clean) raceway that it is today, the track and its surroundings had to withstand some serious difficulties and major reconstruction.
• The first race on the big track was an IndyCar race in 1971, but it was soon followed by nature's fury as Hurricane Agnes left behind tremendous damage in its path. Soon thereafter, Pocono Raceway's very existence was threatened by an economic and energy crisis. Due to the gas shortage and economy in the 1970s, the Mattiolis considered selling the track to new owners. Bill France Sr. met with them several times and persuaded them not to sell the track.
• The first Cup race at Pocono was August 1974, won by Richard Petty. A second Cup race was added in 1982. The track has hosted 68 races from 1974-2011.
• In August 2011, Doc resigned and turned over all his duties to his grandchildren. "It has to stay in the family," said Mattioli, in a June interview with "The Philadelphia Inquirer." "I put it in trust. They can't touch it. They can't sell it. The [SOBs] are going to run it, or they're going to starve." Track president and grandson Brandon Igdalsky added the additional title of CEO.
• On Jan. 26, 2012, Dr. Joseph Mattioli, age 86, died after a lengthy illness a little more than a month after he and his wife were awarded the prestigious National Motorsports Press Association's Myers Brothers award which recognizes individuals and/or groups who have provided outstanding contributions to stock-car racing.
• Pocono Raceway is the only family owned and operated of the 23 tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Coca-Cola 600 and FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks

So sorry I've been not keeping up with the blog! Junior finished 6th at Charlotte and 4th at Dover. He moved up one position to 3rd in points. This weekend at Pocono, he started 8th and I am hoping he does well, would be better if he got a win!!