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The Mattiolis: NASCAR's New York City connection...now a changing of the guard

  Dr. Joe Mattioli: followed his dream...with a little encouragement from Bill France Sr. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern



   POCONO, Pa.
   The misty, fog-shrouded Poconos, with deer and bear and trout steams, and Indian trails and Scout camps, and twisting two-lane country roads through vast forestlands, with huge stands of Christmas spruce, and maybe even a moose or two if you're lucky, might seem an odd place for a big race track like this.
   But then that's part of the charm of NASCAR -- the many unusual places it gets to play: from South Carolina cotton fields to Sonoma County vineyards, Alabama cattle country, Florida beachy marsh land, downtown Indianapolis and downtown Richmond and downtown Phoenix, Tennessee coal country, along Texas' old Chisholm Trail, the Delaware sea coast, Kansas City, legendary Watkins Glen, the gorgeous lake country of New Hampshire, and even down to Miami and the Keys…..

   And this is where Dr. Joe and Rose Mattioli decided to stake their claim, on a very isolated piece of land right by Tunkhannock Creek, which meanders along the track's Long Pond Straight to, well, what could be best described as a long pond.
   Wilderness: 50 years ago when they first had the idea, and 40 years ago when they cut the ribbon, and even really today, with log cabins tucked in here and there, and hardwood smoke coming out of chimneys even in the middle of what passes for summer up here in northern Appalachian ridge country.
   A tough decision to make, really. Building a race track back then. The racing craze of the late 1960s was about to fade into the depression of the early 1970s. And the Mattiolis were on the edge….when Big Bill France gave them just the nudge: France, on the back of his Daytona business card, scratched out the first line of the famous Robert Frost poem "On the plains of hesitation…."

  Grandson Brandon Igdalsky: catches a big fish....and now he is the big fish at Pocono (Photo: Brandon Igdalsky)

   "Clay Earles, down in Martinsville, used to say that he was either 'dressed' or 'undressed,': Mattioli says with a smile.  "If he was carrying a piece, then he was dressed.  If he was undressed, he wasn't carrying a piece. 
    "I was threatened up here many, many years ago.  You have no idea what it was like up here but it was really desolate.  I used to live in my trailer in the back of the old office, and I had a always had a German shepherd with me…and I always carried a side arm. 
    "I just got in the habit.  And ever since then I've always carried a side arm.  It's just a habit you get into.
    "But you always had to be armed when you were here. 
     "This was a very desolate country 50 years ago…and I always carried a side arm, and still do….though now I've gotten too fat and can't even put it in my belt."
    And he laughed.
    And now, some 50 years later, he, at 86, is ready to hang up his spurs and turn it all over to the kids. Rather, the grandkids, with not-at-all-shy Brandon Igdalsky -- @ bigdalsky – in charge.


  Pocono: Turn Four? What Turn Four? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   It's a rough, ol' track now, with a lot of bumps, and a lot of what Carl Edwards would, diplomatically, call 'character.' Others in this traveling circus might just say it's overdue for repaving. But then this is how it got that second Cup date, back that summer when Indy-car drivers refused to run on it, for being too bumpy, and Mattioli called France and NASCAR came to the rescue.
    BTW, what is the value of a Sprint Cup tour race date these days? That's probably up to Bruton Smith or Lesa France Kennedy to decide; but $100 million is likely ballpark.
   And what's the value of Pocono International Raceway? Mattiolli says $600 million…which would peg each Cup date at roughly $300 million. A pretty penny in these times.
    But then this is the closest NASCAR gets to play to New York City, just 90 minutes east of here.
   Used to be that Stoney Hollow Road, the 'backroad' to the track, would be backed up on race morning nearly to Interstate-80, and counter-flow was needed to feed the fans to the speedway. Not that way these days; times are hard all over.
   Not sure if that bunch of Deadheads still cranks up down by the first turn like they used to, playing loud, loud music through huge speakers hauled in on flatbeds.
   But that's been part of the character of this place.
  And the Mattiolis carved a curious little fiefdom out of this part of the wilderness west of the Delaware Water Gap, where dramatic coal country scenery, and some scary history, begins, just a few miles off coast-to-coast I-80, New York to San Francisco. Those huge blocks of anthracite, decaled with legendary NASCAR numbers, attest to some of the history here.
    The track is unlike any other, with its triangular shape and three decidedly different corners.
   Turn one is your basic NASCAR corner, 14 degrees, but wide, and the only great passing zone, at the end of the sport's longest straight, so long that drivers actually shift halfway down it.
   Turn two is the 'tunnel turn,' over the pair of infield tunnels; it's tight and narrow and high-speed, though the inside line can be tricky, once littered with gravel, that a wily driver could use to his advantage.
    Turn three is the slow corner, only six degrees, and it's a sharp one, coming after the short chute from the tunnel turn.
    And it's filled with history. Bobby Allison's near fatal crash…Tim Richmond's comeback…Jeremy Mayfield bulldozing Dale Earnhardt out of the way to victory….a slew of frightening crashes, like Earnhardt's, and Rusty Wallace's, and Davey Allison's….   
    So it was an emotional moment when Mattioli spoke here about the change: "50 years went by damn fast….
    "So this is sort of special to us. But my wife and I felt it's about time I got the hell out of here. 
    "I'm resigning all my positions…we're going to take it a little easy.
    "I've had a hell of a good time doing all the things I wanted to do.  And I felt that going on 87, well, nobody lives forever, and I better get the hell out of here while the getting's good.
   "I want to thank you all for all the nice things you've said…and even the bad things you've said, and there have been both. 
    "We've had a nice time working here.

   Dr. Joe Mattioli: fellow promoter Bruton Smith keeps calling, wanting to buy Pocono, but Mattioli keeps saying no (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    "All we started with here was $48. And the last time we did a mint-value, it was around $600 million. So it's been quite a jump. 
    "Bruton kept after us -- he wanted to buy it for many years.  But we always felt this was something special; so we put it in trust so they couldn't sell it if they wanted to sell it. 
    "We put it in trust -- so the first step is to do what we're doing right now, leaving it to our grandchildren.  And then they can't do a damn thing until Rose and I die, and until all of our three children have died.  Until then, it would be turned over into a trust made up of our seven grandchildren."
     Through it all, Mattioli now says "You can tell just by the way I'm talking right now that we've had a good time. 
    "Rose and I come from very poor families. We ran away and got married, and our parents never knew about it. We even kept a secret for many years.
   "After we felt that the marriage was going to last, we had a real Italian wedding and got married again.
    "And now I say we've had a pretty good time."


  You know mountain weather.....here Martin Truex Jr. considers (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

I've been to Pocono three

I've been to Pocono three times, last in '07, at that time it was without a doubt the worst facility, for drivers and fans, on the Cup schedule. That said, I respect Dr. Joe and Rose for daring to build it at all and to have a trust set up whereby it stays in the family for what should be decades to come speaks volumes about their vision and commitment to Nascar. These are the type folk who deserve every penny they have earned.Reading the article makes me think the track is not for sell at any price. Good for you Dr.Joe,stick to your convictions and keep Bruton and Marcus in line.

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