Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Pocono upgrades nearly finished
Pocono Raceway expects a safer track in 2011 and beyond.
The NASCAR track should be finished by the end of this year, with significant safety upgrades that include a soft-wall barrier and catch fence. Work on the multimillion-dollar project started in October.
The new fence will run from the end of the front stretch and connect with the existing catch fence in Turn 2. The 6,155-foot fence will surround the entire 2.5-mile race track.
The SAFER barrier will run on the entire length of the inside of the track from the exit of Turn 1 to the entrance of Turn 3 for a total of 5,516 feet. Pocono Raceway already has soft-wall barriers at each of the track's three turns.
Track president Brandon Igdalsky said the improvements, especially the fence, were long overdue.
"The question was, 'Why don't we have it out there?' " Igdalsky said by phone. "We couldn't answer that. Let's put it up. Let's get it up and get it out there."
Igdalsky listened to responses from NASCAR and drivers who long complained the triangle track was unsafe. Pocono had started planning safety improvements this year even before two scary accidents put a spotlight on the track's deficiencies.
Kasey Kahne was involved in a huge scare in the June race when he lost control of his car in the grass, went airborne and into the trees that line the track. Had the car sailed higher, Kahne would have flipped out of the track.
Elliott Sadler walked away from a frightening wreck in August when his car smashed the inside wall. He came away with a sore chest and stomach.
"I think it's going to change racing in the long term," Igdalsky said. "I don't think the drivers will be thinking about it in the back of their heads. They'll come out and just think about racing."
Greg Biffle offered the harshest criticism of Pocono Raceway in a Sports Illustrated story this year, saying "they're going to kill somebody there." He added: "If they don't change that racetrack -- maybe not next year, maybe not three years from now -- they'll hurt somebody there."
Igdalsky believed Biffle overstated the danger, but knew the track needed the modern safety upgrades. The barriers, a combination of steel and foam, will replace the current guard rail system.
SAFER barriers are currently in place at each of NASCAR's oval tracks and also are being installed on the road course at Watkins Glen.
The track will hold Sprint Cup races next year on June 12 and Aug. 7.
Igdalsky said the track may announce more improvement projects in the spring. He said there are plans to repave the track within the next five to six years, and an addition of more fan-friendly features.
The track underwent a 10-year renovation in the 1990s, adding new crash walls, a garage area and 150-site motor home park. Igdalsky had a decrepit section of track filled in 2008 with asphalt that created a patch drivers raved about.
"We had a great season here," Igdalsky said. "I think this new car is shining at Pocono."