UNLESS Bruton Smith swoops in with an overwhelming offer for Pocono Raceway, the mountain racetrack will remain in the Mattioli family's control. That's the sense gathered from conversations with people familiar with Pocono Raceway.
Almost every year, there is speculation that either Smith's Speedway Motorsports Inc. or International Speedway Corp. will buy Pocono Raceway. Speedway Motorsports owns seven racetracks. ISC owns 12.
After Smith, 81, recently purchased Kentucky Speedway, the North Carolina-based mega-car dealer indicated that he plans to bring a Sprint Cup race to the track. Since NASCAR has no plans to expand its 36-race Cup series schedule, Smith would have to move a race from an existing track.
Pocono, Dover International Speedway in Delaware and Indianapolis Motor Speedway are the only independently owned tracks remaining on NASCAR's Sprint Cup circuit.
Last week, Dr. Rose Mattioli, wife of Dr. Joseph Mattioli, Pocono Raceway's board chairman, told the Associated Press Pocono is not for sale. Joseph Mattioli, 83, was not available yesterday. He is still recovering from pneumonia that hospitalized him.
For years, the Mattiolis have groomed their grandchildren to run the Pocono facility. One grandson, Brandon Igdalsky, is now president of the raceway and Mattco Inc., the family business. His brother, Nicholas, is senior vice president.
Last year, the Mattiolis announced that Mattco's holdings are worth $600 million. The businesses include Pocono, South Boston (Va.) Speedway and the Village at Pocono, a new project featuring condos and motel rooms.
Adding to the speculation about the track's future is recent criticism from prominent drivers Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton.
Gordon said the track is "outdated" and "needs a ton of upgrades." He said he's "shocked" that Pocono has had two races for years and doubted the track will continue to host two races annually.
Pocono is one of 14 tracks with two Sprint Cup races per year. The Pocono races are only 8 weeks apart.
During testing last week at Pocono, Earnhardt said the track is rough and needs repaving.
In April, Burton called the back straightaway at Pocono "ridiculous." He said drivers have tried for years to get the track to improve the guardrails in the Turn 2 area.
In the past, "Doc" Mattioli, a former Philadelphia dentist, has said the track has always fulfilled NASCAR's requests for improvements.
With NASCAR's failed attempt to build a racetrack on Staten Island, N.Y., Pocono continues to be the closest major track to New York City.
Citing Pocono's proximity to New York City and Philadelphia, H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler, the recently retired president of Lowe's Motor Speedway, said yesterday: "NASCAR would hesitate big-time before they would move anything out of Pocono, because the sponsors would go bananas. I've talked to him a million times about selling it, but I don't think he will."
After NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. persuaded the Mattiolis in 1975 not to sell the track, their families had a strong business bond. They had a handshake deal that if the Mattiolis ever wanted to sell, the France family would have the first opportunity to buy the track.
Now that Bill Sr. and his son, Bill Jr., are deceased, the Mattiolis' relationship with Brian France, Bill Jr.'s son, who is NASCAR's board chairman and CEO, is thought not to be as tight. However, NASCAR officials have said that the Mattiolis' history with the sanctioning organization and its location to major Northeast markets are important to NASCAR.
Will Pocono Raceway ever be for sale? In business, you never say never. For the foreseeable future, though, expect the Mattioli family to remain in charge.
Long Pond, Pa.
When: p.m. Sunday
TV/Radio: TNT/WXTU (92.5-FM), WNPV (1440-AM)
Race course: 2.5-mile tri-oval
Race distance: 200 laps/500 miles
Last year's race winner: Jeff Gordon
Last year's pole winner: Ryan Newman, 170.062 mph
Track qualifying record: Kasey Kahne, 172.533 mph (June 2004)
Track facts: Ryan Newman was runner-up in last year's rain-shortened race; Martin Truex Jr. was third ... Kurt Busch won the August race at Pocono. In his last five races at the track, Busch has two wins and two second-places ... Jeff Gordon has the most wins (4) at Pocono among active drivers ... In Denny Hamlin's rookie season 2 years ago, he won both Pocono races from the pole position. In last year's races at the track, Hamlin finished sixth and third ... After his third-place finish at Dover last Sunday, Greg Biffle climbed six places in points, to fifth. Jeff Gordon (fifth at Dover) advanced four spots, to sixth.
Wins: Kyle Busch, 4; Carl Edwards, 3; Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, 1 each.
SPRINT CUP STANDINGS
1. Kyle Busch (1 last week), 2,050
2. Jeff Burton (2), 1,908, -142
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (3), 1,779, -271
4. Carl Edwards (6), 1,713, -337
5. Greg Biffle (11), 1,658, -392
6. Jeff Gordon (10), 1,646, -404
7. Jimmie Johnson (9), 1,644, -406
8. Clint Bowyer (5), 1,633, -417
9. Denny Hamlin (4), 1,630, -420
10. Kevin Harvick (7), 1,566, -484
11. Tony Stewart (8), 1,551, -499
12. Kasey Kahne (12), 1,524, -526
13. David Ragan (13), 1,516, -534
14. Ryan Newman (14), 1,495, -555
15. Martin Truex Jr. (15), 1,441, -609
16. Matt Kenseth (16), 1,429, -621
17. Juan Montoya (17), 1,390, -660
18. Travix Kvapil (19), 1,370, -680
19. Brian Vickers (20), 1,327, -723
20. Bobby Labonte (18), 1,325, -725