The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

June 28, 2013

Shawn Wood's motorsports column: Lets get more ovals onto IndyCar schedule

Daily Item

---- — When it comes to the issue of the number of oval races on the IZOD IndyCar schedule, Ed Carpenter is not one to shy away from letting his feelings be known.

The former United States Auto Club midget and sprint car driver was one of 14 drivers testing at Pocono Raceway on Tuesday in preparation for the Pocono 400 on July 7, the first IndyCar race at the track since 1989.

IndyCar is at Pocono starting July 4, which is during the heart of the 23rd annual Pennsylvania Sprint Car Speed Week.

The good news is that the Pocono 400 is slated for a noon-time start on the 7th. That should give folks plenty of time to make the 95-mile trip back to Selinsgrove Speedway for the Jan Opperman Memorial, the final race of the Speed Week.

"A lot of NASCAR tracks don't seem like they would make a good IndyCar track, but that's not the case here," Carpenter said. "I am really happy that Brandon and Nick (Igdalsky) worked out a deal with IndyCar to get us back here."

Pocono is one of five oval races on the 2013 schedule. The season-ending race is at Fontana.

Oval winners this year include James Hinchcliffe (Iowa) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (Milwaukee), Tony Kanaan (Indianapolis) and Helio Castroneves (Texas).

"I would like to see the schedule be a little more balanced, say 50-50 (ovals, road and street courses), and I think the series would like to see that too," Carpenter added. "But, it is a matter of finding more good partners like what we have found here at Pocono to put them (ovals) on the schedule. We can't just add them if they are not going to be quality races and not promoted properly. I think you'll see the number grow, but it's not going to happen over-night."

All 14 drivers had praise for the unique 2.5-mile tri-oval which has 14 degrees of banking in Turn 1, nine degrees in Turn 2 and six degrees in Turn 3, replicating Trenton Speedway (N.J.), Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Milwaukee Mile, respectively.

"Turn 1 is the really tricky part of the lap and that's the hard corner to get right without messing up the other two," Carpenter said.

He summed up his maiden voyage around the Tricky Triangle as "fun"

"The challenge of doing something new," Carpenter said as to how he defined fun. "Everybody came here with a set-up on the car that we thought that would work, but, with having no experience here -- being how unique the track is -- you are just guessing on the car. We don't go to too many new tracks, so it's fun trying to figure out what the car needs. Every corner offers a different challenges, especially Turn 1. It's a beast; it's a monster of a corner."

Carpenter was the pole sitter for the Indy 500.

He wasn't the only driver praising the track.

"Who thought to make an oval like this? It's pretty crazy, but it's cool," Panther Racing driver Ryan Briscoe. "You have big banking, a fairly tight radius through Turn 1 and then you get to the last corner and it's very flat. It's an interesting challenge."

Briscoe noted that he has heard stories about Pocono from Rick Mears, a three-time winner at the track, as to how much he loved racing there and that IndyCar should come back to it.

"Corner 1 is impressive every time you get there," E.J. Viso said. "At the speed that we run, it feels like we are not going to make it, but we do. That is a fun corner. I've seen a number of NASCAR races and they are very fun to watch. I can already imagine that the IndyCar race is going to be even better."

Castroneves, the series points leader, backed up that comment saying, "we are going to have four-wide and even five-wide on the front straightaway, no question about it."

Marc Donohue won the pole and the first-ever IndyCar race, the Pocono 500, on July 3, 1971, driving an Offy-powered McLaren chassis for Roger Penske.

The first race inlcude then NASCAR Grand National regulars Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough who finished 28th and 32nd, respectively.

Penkse driver Danny Sullivan won the last race in 1989. Teo Fabi, the 1983 winner, is the only non-American to win the race. The race was interupted by rain in 1975 and 1981.

Emerson Fittipaldi holds the track qualifying record at 211.715 miles per hour, which is expected to fall.

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, stock brokerage firm E.F. Hutton was famous for its slogan: 'When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.'

Let's hope that when Carpenter talks about getting more ovals onto the IndyCar schedule, that IndyCar can find more great oval partners like Pocono and add them to the schedule sooner, rather than later.