A Visit To The Doc On Eve Of IndyCar Return
By Bill Fleischman | Senior Correspondent
Editor’s Note: With Indy cars returning to Pocono Raceway July 7, Bill Fleischman conducts an imaginary interview with Dr. Joseph Mattioli, the driving force behind the raceway. “Doc” Mattioli, a former Philadelphia dentist, had the 2.5-mile tri-oval designed primarily for Indy cars. He died last January at 86. He was inducted posthumously into the National Motorsports Press Association’s Hall of Fame on Jan. 19 in Charlotte, N.C. Fleischman caught up with Doc while he was helping bulldoze an area for a race track called Heaven’s Gate Speedway. Running a bulldozer was one of Doc’s favorite “hobbies” at Pocono.
Bill: Doc, it’s your favorite Philly motorsports writer.
Doc: Is this Ernie Saxton?
Bill: No, no, it’s Bill Fleischman, from the Daily News. I’m the guy who used to ask you every year about shortening your two NASCAR Sprint Cup races from 500 miles to a more reasonable 400. Remember how much you used to “enjoy” those questions?
Doc (voice booming from heaven): Fleischman? OMG, you almost drove me crazy with those questions. I called you The Philly Pest.
Bill: Your voice was so loud I had to hold the phone receiver away from my ear. Remember how you also enjoyed my asking why your NASCAR races didn’t have sponsors. And on several occasions I described you as stubborn.
Doc: Me, stubborn? No way. Wait, I have to tell these guys I’m working with to quiet down. We’re bulldozing a
short track for God and St. Peter to race on. They think they’re Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon.
Bill: Let’s let bygones be bygones. By the way, the cell phone reception is excellent. God must have a lot of influence with the cell providers. Anyway, I’m calling because your grandson Brandon is bringing back Indy cars to Pocono. (Brandon Igdalsky is the track president and CEO).
Doc: He’s doing what? I can’t believe it! I thought we were done with those open-wheelers after the 1989 race. You remember what happened: we had huge crowds with them in the 1970s…Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, the Unser brothers all raced at Pocono. Then, after the sanctioning split between USAC and CART, I sided with USAC. We never could get the crowds back.
Bill: Some of us thought you were stubborn for sticking with USAC.
Doc: There you go again with that stubborn stuff. Maybe I need to suggest to Brandon and his brother Nick that they pay you a visit, you know, a get-acquainted session. Ah, OK, maybe I was a little stubborn…but don’t quote me on that!
Bill: Fogettabout it. Brandon, Nick and I get along fine, although I think they also get annoyed with some of my questions. Must be a Philly thing. Anyway, I’m wondering what kind of crowds you think the Indy cars will draw at Pocono. The current racers put on an excellent show, but they don’t draw too well at many tracks. My sense is, the Indy-car crowds in the East have aged and gone away as NASCAR has taken over.
Doc: Maybe you feel that way because you’ve aged, although I must say you look semi-mahvelous for a geezer. Do you moisturize? But I digress…I think the crowd will be OK the first year back. Brandon and Nick will have to promote the hell out of the race: they should have Mario Andretti make a lot of appearances, maybe have Mario give away some of his wines. I always thought his chiantis had a favorable bouquet.
Bill: Mario was at the press conference. Says he loves your race track and is disappointed he’s too old to race there any more.
Doc: Mario probably could still outrun some of the current Indy-car drivers. Maybe if we come up short on the entry list they’ll have Mario start in the back of the field in a sprint car…hehehe…Remember when we did that in the early 1980s to fill out the field?
Bill: Doc, please don’t mention the sprint cars in an Indy-car race at Pocono again. A very bad memory for racing fans…
Doc: Sorry, gotta go. God and St. Peter are revving their engines…they want to go racin’…if St. Peter says “Boogity, boogity, let’s go racin’, boys” I’ll start doing wheelies with this bulldozer.
Bill: Always good talking with you, Doc. I’ll leave you with this: “Wait ‘til Helio Castroneves sees Long Pond, Pa.”
– Bill Fleischman is a long-time motorsports writer based in Philadelphia. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.orgNo Comment