Sunday, December 4, 2016

A Tale of Three Tracks

Those of you who are fans of this space know that thanks to my wife's job and my association with John Cummiskey Racing, I've visited a lot of race tracks this year.

If you count my visit to my local Rockford Speedway back in April, I have visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Road America, Mid-Ohio, Laguna Seca, Memphis Motorsports Park, as well as street courses in Toronto, Monaco and Singapore.

This week I was pretty busy and added three more to my list, and all three have their own distinct personalities and backstories. Two are stops on the Verizon IndyCar series, and the third, unfortunately, is a part of the history of open wheel racing, where it will probably remain forever.

My first stop was at Barber Motorsports Park, where JCR was among several USF2000 teams testing for the 2017 season. It was my first time there and I was completely impressed. What an amazing facility, and one place where TV does no justice to how cool the place really is.

My friend Ross, who I have known since high school and lives in the area, says Barber is much more beautiful in April when it is all greened up, but even though it was pretty dormant and brown, it was still stunning with its rolling hills and natural beauty.

On Tuesday I drove around to various spots on the course and discovered there were some awesome spots to view the action all over the course. Unlike a lot of natural terrain road courses, Barber is very compact and doesn't take up a lot of space, so from many vantage points is possible to see a lot of the course from no matter where you sit.

My favorite spot was along the backstretch, where you can see about three-fourths of the course, with the potential to see cars going in three different directions: along the front stretch, through Turn 5 and all along the back portion of the course.

This may come as a surprise to most people, but despite being on-site at Road America, Toronto and Mid-Ohio for an entire race weekend, I didn't actually stay for the IndyCar race. Part of it was because by the time our events finished for the weekend I had spent 30-40 hours at the track working, and, in the case of Toronto, I had a long drive home and just wanted to get on the road.

I've already decided, however, that I'm staying for the Barber race, it looks to be a can't-miss event!

Another track I visited was Pocono Raceway, a.k.a. the "Tricky Triangle". Darcy had a business trip that took her to Eastern Pennsylvania and then New York, so I tagged along so we could spend a couple of days in Manhattan.

Our hotel was in Bethlehem, PA, which is about a 45-minute drive from the track. Thursday I jumped into our Nissan 370Z rental and headed up.

The drive up is mostly on some twisty, two-lane roads that go through a few small towns, and, as it turns out, up some really large hills. It's kind of a
trivial thing, I know, but it was interesting to see that the track sits at about 1,850 feet above sea level, making it, by my best guess, the highest track on the schedule.

The track itself looks like it sits on land that was cut out of the trees and leveled off, because it is completely surrounded by forests. Still, with its huge front-stretch grandstand -- which looks way bigger than it appears on television -- it cuts an imposing figure as you drive up to it.

With track tours done for the year in
October, there wasn't much else to do except to check in at the office to see if there was anywhere I could go to take pictures or see other spots on the track. The person I spoke to in the office pointed me to a viewing stand just at the exit of Turn 2.

Actually, the view from there was pretty cool. One thing that really startled me is just how bare the infield was, which from the camping areas or the top of the grandstands would make it a great place to see the cars pretty much all the way around the track. That's kind of a given now with the
way tracks are designed now, but Pocono is 45 years old so I think it it unique in that sense.

Actually, where I was standing would've been a great place to watch the race, but I think a perfect place might have been to my right, which was where I see RVs parked during both the IndyCar and Cup weekends. That looks like it would be a lot of fun. Either way, getting to finally see Pocono in person makes me want to go see a race there. While the USF2000 series won't be there next year, I'll get there someday.

Before heading to Pocono, I had made one other stop. Since the next town over from Bethlehem was Nazareth, I drove over there to see if I could find what was left of Nazareth Speedway, which was once part of the IndyCar schedule but has been closed since 2004.

I've written about Nazareth before, back in 2012 when I found a "save Nazareth Speedway" Facebook page. But I really wanted to see the track for myself.

It didn't take all that long to find it, and
I drove around trying to find a place where I could get a better view. That led me to a side road and a gravel path that looked like it had once served as parking. One gravel path led to another and before I knew it I pulled up to a fence that had conveniently been pulled back far enough that I could squeeze through.

So, the answer is, yes, I trespassed! And given the survey of replies to one of my Twitter posts, most of you would've done the same thing!

Anyway, I walked along a path and cut
through some trees and brush, and I was to the wall at the entry to Turn 3. The photo above was looking back down the backstretch, and the one to the left was looking towards Turn 4. Of course, the first photo in this sequence is of the start-finish line.

I climbed over the wall and worked my way all the way around to the frontstretch -- hence the start-finish line photo. I really wanted to completely walk the track but I also didn't want to get back to my car and find a law enforcement officer or upset landowner waiting for me. So I grabbed a few more photos and worked my way back to the car.

You can find photos at the bottom of this post, but when I went back and looked at some old photos of the track and watched some videos on YouTube, it was hard to believe that I was looking at the same place that had seen so much racing history, which actually dated back over a century on that property.

It's really sad to see what has happened to the track, but even sadder is the fact that we will never see racing on that site ever again. The track is in such a state that it could never be rehabilitated, and just mowing it down and building a new track on the site would cost millions of dollars no one wants to spend.

Like so many tracks around the country that have shuttered over the years, it's sad to see it happen, but, as I mentioned in my blog post almost five years ago, time just marches on. Still, I was glad to be able to get there and walk the track a little, just to say that I did.

No comments:

Post a Comment