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Official Review by Joshua Guiher, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Pocono Raceway is located in Long Pond, Pennsylvania, just 3 miles off of Interstate 80. Construction began in 1968 on the track with the unique triangle shape. Referred to as the “Tricky Triangle,” the turns are modeled after famous turns of three other tracks. Turn one is modeled after the now defunct Trenton Speedway, turn two based upon Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and turn three resembles The Milwaukee Mile.
IndyCar first ran the track from 1971 through 1989, hosting a 500-mile race each year. After an internal split within the series – and subsequent re-merger -- IndyCar is back at Pocono with the Pocono IndyCar 400. The race is part of the Fuzzy’s Triple Crown Challenge, where a driver can win a $1 million bonus if he/she is able to win all three races in the challenge.
With the IndyCar Series making their return in 2013 after 24-years, Stadium Journey took a visit to see what the fan experience is like, and how it varies from the NASCAR experience at the track.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The food options at Pocono are varied, but simple. There is no signature item that is a must have. While the track offers philly cheesesteaks ($7), and while it is alright, it in no way compares to a cheesesteak from Pat's or Gino's in Philadelphia.
Other main course items include Italian sausage ($7), chicken fingers with fries ($9), 1/2 lb. steak burger ($8), 1/3 lb. burger ($6), corndog ($5), and a hot dog ($4). The nachos ($9) are also large enough to be a full meal, and are the best buy.
Side items include fries ($5), a soft pretzel ($4) with cheese $1 extra, and hand scooped ice cream ($5). Ice cream flavor options are vanilla, chocolate and mint chip. The best side item is probably the roasted nuts ($5/$9/$17).
Soft drinks are Pepsi products ($4), water ($3), and lemonade ($6). If you prefer alcohol, both hard liquor and beer are available. Beer options include Bud and Bud Light 16oz cans ($7) and Yuengling 24oz cans ($8). Hard liquor includes mixed drinks with Jack Daniel's and Crown Royal ($8) while the signature Fuzzy's Vodka lemonade cocktail is $10.
Lines move decently fast, with the exception of the ice cream, but remember it is hand scooped right in front of you.
Inside the track, there are a couple stands called Coco Bongos where you can get Screwdrivers, Rum & Coke's and Bloody Marys' for $6 each, or a coconut filled with an alcoholic drink for $15 among other options.
The track is well run, which leads to a good atmosphere and fan experience. I have been to every major race here over the past three years, and the pre-race festivities are always right on time. There is a good mix of piped-in music during down periods, track announcer during festivities, and audio of the radio coverage during the actual event.
With the famous Andretti family living less than an hour away, the atmosphere is electric every time an Andretti Auto sport driver takes the lead, especially Marco Andretti.
Pre-race activities include a t-shirt toss, two-seater IndyCar rides, church service in victory lane, and a vintage race car pace lap. It's a very nice spectacle that shows the history of IndyCar.
One thing that could use improving is making things more IndyCar centric for this event. At least half of the souvenir stands sell NASCAR apparel, giving off a feeling that IndyCar is only partially welcome.
Also, the camping is far from full, affecting the atmosphere in this area. I think some of this has to do with the different fan demographic than what you experience here for a NASCAR race.
The local neighborhood is small and lacks some amenities you might want. Hotel prices can skyrocket, going for more than double their normal price. Most hotels are a good 30-minute drive or more so plan ahead. I recommend the camping options, particularly if anyone in your group has an RV.
Finding a local restaurant is easier, but still somewhat limited. You won't find any chain restaurants, with the closest McDonald's a few exits west on Interstate 80. Eating local is your best bet, with Van Gilder's Jubilee or Piggy's great spots for breakfast, and Murphy's Loft the go-to spot for dinner.
With the track located in the heart of the Pocono mountain resort area, most entertainment is of the outdoor variety. Hiking, biking, horseback riding, whitewater rafting, and fishing are all popular activities in the area. In fact, you very well may find the drivers doing these activities right alongside you in the days before or after the race.
Quite frankly, you can come up with enough things to do to cover two weeks, but those activities are all outdoor based and may be a turnoff to some.
The fans in attendance cheer and react to nearly every pass. With passes happening all over throughout the race, the excitement from the stands is felt through the entire event.
Attendance was huge in the grandstands for the return of IndyCar to Pocono in 2013, amazing for an event coming off of a 24-year hiatus. While far from a sellout in some of the more expensive seating areas, the fans impressed. As the event grows over the coming years, the attendance will surely go up even more.
The crowd is a nice diverse demographic. There is much less drinking than a NASCAR race, making for a better experience in the stands. As I tried out various seats, I recommend the Grandstand Club Seats. Food and drink is included in the price, and the seats are covered so you don't have to worry about getting sunburned.
The track is located 90-miles from New York City and Philadelphia, and the track also sits less than 10 miles east of Interstate 476, the northeast extension of the Pennsylvania turnpike which runs from Philadelphia to Interstate 80.
The journey can drag on during the final five miles, taking up to an hour to navigate from Interstate 80 to the track along route 115. Unfortunately there is only so much that can be done since the surrounding area has no need for bigger roads any other time of the year. Just show up early and account for this possibility.
Once at the track, the parking staff keeps traffic moving. Parking is free and there is plenty of it so don't make the mistake of paying $30 to park in someone's yard. Infield parking requires a pass with race day infield parking $40 per person which allows you to watch the race from where you parked.
Actual camping inside the track is $125 for tents, and ranges from $200-$500 for RVs. The choices are so plentiful it isn't worth me listing, just be sure that you know whether you're camping includes a ticket, as it varies.
Once inside the track, the best activities require various passes. The best value is probably the pit/paddock pass where you can get within 50-feet of the garage; watch the race teams and the entire inspection process, see drivers and request autographs. Also, before the race, fans can cross the track and spend a few minutes around pit road and get a close up view of the cars.
Outside the track, between gates 9 & 10 is the fan zone. There are lots of activities for fans including a huge area for kids. Go Kart rides from the Rusty Wallace Karting Experience are $20, free autograph sessions, bounce houses, give-a-ways, souvenir trailers and more.
One of the more famous parts of Pocono Raceway is the restroom facility, called the Long John. It boasts 1,000 toilets and can easily accommodate the largest of crowds. While nothing fancy, the restrooms are staffed with attendants and are some of the cleanest you'll find at a public sporting event.
No doubt about it, this is one of the best values you will find in motorsports. A grandstand ticket is only $25, and children 12-under are just $12.50 on Sunday. Even better, kids get in for free on Saturday with a paying adult and all fans are free on Thursday and Friday for practice.
The grandstand seats are general admission, with seating on a first-come first-served basis. While you can't see the entire way around the large 2.5-mile track, there are video boards if you sit toward the ends. For some reason, there are no video boards for the middle seats.
Some of the seating options are a bit overpriced, such as the Sky Box seats for $500, but if you want a good upgrade, go for the Grandstand Club seats as I mentioned earlier. You are able to see the entire way around the track for hundreds less.
The kids' zones, both in the fan zone and inside the track near turn three are a great option. The track is very green-conscious, installing a 25-acre solar panel project in 2010. The project is so large that it can power nearly 1,000 homes in addition to the racetrack. The track also has a track recycling program and a clean air tree planting program.
The final extra point is for the new signage around Pocono Raceway. They are a much needed addition. I'm really impressed with the way things have improved over the past few years of visiting the track to help fans find their way around from the time they get off the Interstate until they get to their seat.
The Pocono IndyCar 400 is well on its way to reclaiming its spot as a top race on the IndyCar circuit. I can't wait to go back to Pocono next year with my kid.
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2067 Pennsylvania 940
Pocono Pines, PA 18350
91 N Lake Dr
Lake Harmony, PA 18624
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