Pocono Raceway's Joseph Mattioli dies

Dr. Joseph Mattioli, founder of Pocono Raceway, died Thursday. The man known as "Doc" in the NASCAR community was 86.

"He was a friend from the very beginning with my grandfather," NASCAR chairman Brian France said of the sport's founding father, Bill France Sr. "He was a great man, and he really, really cared a lot about this sport. He'll be missed."

NASCAR president Mike Helton echoed those sentiments.

"There's no question that Doc was very symbolic to the passion of our sport," Helton said. "Everybody has their own different interpretation of your first reaction to saying 'Pocono.' But certainly the character and the passion and the impact that Doc and (wife) Rose Mattioli made on our sport will be forever ingrained in it, and it's sad to hear of his passing."

Mattioli spent his final hours at Lehigh Valley (Pa.) Hospital Center, surrounded by his family after what was described as a "lengthy illness."

Mattioli announced his retirement as chairman of Pocono Raceway in August and passed the running of the track to his grandchildren.

"It has to stay in the family," Mattioli said in a June interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer. "I put it in trust. They can't touch it. They can't sell it. The (SOBs) are going to run it, or they're going to starve."

There have been attempts, the most recent by Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman Bruton Smith, to purchase Pocono Raceway and give at least one of its Sprint Cup dates to another track.

NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said Mattioli's death in no way affects future decisions to keep two Cup events at the track. He praised the Mattioli family for all of the improvements it has made at the facility in Long Pond, Pa.

Mattioli and his wife founded Pocono Raceway in the early 1960s. The track has hosted 68 Cup races.

Mattioli most recently spearheaded a project that resulted in a three-megawatt photovoltaic solar energy system that has made the track the world's largest solar-powered sports facility.

Mattioli served in the Pacific during World War II as a Navy medic. Taking advantage of the G.I. bill, he enrolled in the dentistry program at Temple University.

He eventually turned investments from his ensuing dental business into Pocono Raceway.

Mattioli is survived by Rose, his wife of 63 years; daughters Louie and Michele; son Joseph Mattioli III; seven grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Service arrangements will be announced at a later date.

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.