Murto: Pocono welcomes IndyCar

By Craig Murto

Pocono International Raceway was — literally — made for IndyCar racing.

The “tricky triangle,” as it’s now called, was constructed for the open-wheel cars of the IndyCar circuit. Its three corners mimic the corners of tracks that were the mainstay of IndyCar racing: Turn one replicates the now-defunct track in Trenton, N.J.; turn two is Indianapolis; and turn three is the Milwaukee mile.

But IndyCars hadn’t raced on the circuit since 1989. That was until the 400-mile race last weekend.

The crowd was better than promoters expected, and the three-wide start was as exciting as expected. Nobody expected James Hinchcliffe to crash out of the race in the first corner, but luckily that didn’t set the tone for the day and most of the race was clean.

There was plenty of passing, and crowds seemed to enjoy the 220 mph action. In the end Scott Dixon led Charlie Kimball and Dario Franchitti to the first Chip Ganassi sweep of a podium in any form of racing, and Honda engines proved they could provide horsepower and get mileage when needed.

Hopefully the Pocono race will become a regular stop for IndyCar again. With smaller crowds and lower ticket prices, it’s the perfect reason to make the four-hour trek to Longpond, Pa.

Jeff Gordon made the trek to Pocono following his disappointing run in the Coke-Zero 400 at Daytona. His teammate, Jimmie Johnson, had much better luck as he became only the fifth driver to win both the Daytona 500 and the 400 in the same year. The others were Fireball Roberts, Cale Yarborough, LeeRoy Yarbrough and Bobby Allison.

There were the usual wrecks, as in any restrictor-plate race. The Gen 6 cars race OK, except there’s not much passing for the lead. Of course, that may have simply been because Johnson had such a good car; it certainly appears to be his year.

It also appears to be Sebastian Vettel’s year. The German driver turned 26 last week, and he’s already a three-time World Champion, working on his fourth title in his Red Bull Renault. Sunday Vettel won his home Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, closely followed by Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus. Raikkonen is one of the drivers rumored to replace Mark Webber at Red Bull following this season, when Webber retires from F1 to compete in sports car racing.

The Red Bull team made a serious error during the German Grand Prix by releasing Webber’s car from the pits before the right-rear tire was properly secured. The tire left the car, bounced down pit road and struck a TV cameraman in the head from behind.

The cameraman — identified as Paul Allen — never lost consciousness, but reportedly suffered a broken collarbone and some cracked ribs. He’s lucky he survived.

Local tracks allow spectators to buy passes that get them into the pits. It’s a lot of fun and it’s exciting.

But always remember to never turn your back on moving racecars. And if you’re in the pits while a race is going on, stay out of the travel lanes in case one of the cars in the race needs to make a pit stop. Local races don’t normally have pit stops, but if there’s a problem on the track a car may have to stop for repairs. Be aware of your surroundings at all times while you’re around racecars. And if you do get a pit pass, be sure to respect the people working on the cars by not getting in their way.

Nobody was in Sammy Halbert’s way when he won the Babara Fritchie Memorial flat track motorcycle classic in Frederick, Md., last week. Then on Saturday night, Brad Baker grabbed his first Grand National flat track feature win at Hagerstown Speedway. And Jake Shoemaker finished second in his first ever Grand National event. It’s a real shame Winchester Speedway dropped the flat track race this year, as it would have been nice for the traveling racers to have been able to run Frederick, Winchester and Hagerstown as they did in 2012.

Friday night Winchester Speedway hosts the Winchester-Hagerstown Shootout, and on Saturday the Late Models head to Hagerstown for round two. Shenandoah Speedway hosts a 150-lap Late Model feature Saturday night, and car counts at the last couple of races were respectable. Summit Point Motorsports Park hosts SCCA action on Saturday and Sunday; visit summitpoint-raceway.com for more information.