Brandon Igdalsky: The Man Behind the Tricky Triangle

Brandon Igdalsky, president of Pocono Raceway, was named
Businessperson of the Year by the Greater Pocono
Mountains Chamber of Commerce in 2010.
Pocono Raceway is one of the most unique tracks on the NASCAR circuit. The 2.5-mile superspeedway in Long Pond, Pa., is nestled in the scenic Pocono Mountains. The track, nicknamed the "Tricky Triangle," not only boasts an unusual triangular configuration, but is one of just three independently owned tracks on the Sprint Cup schedule.

The Mattioli family has owned Pocono Raceway since 1968. In the more than 50 years since, the track went from a hosting a single Sprint Cup date in 1974, to two 500-mile races from 1982 to the present. In August 2010, Pocono held its inaugural Camping World Truck Series race. The track also hosted IndyCar races from 1971 to 1989.

One of a handful of NASCAR-sanctioned tracks in the Northeast, Pocono is located just 90 miles from New York and Philadelphia. The track is within 200 miles of 60 million people, which puts it in the highest population density of any other Sprint Cup track.

Pocono Raceway's impact extends outside motorsports. Last August, the raceway became the world's largest solar-powered sports facility when its solar farm went online. The 25-acre solar farm consists of nearly 40,000 American-made photovoltaic modules and is estimated to produce more than 72 million kilowatt hours of energy over the next 20 years.

Brandon Igdalsky, the grandson of track owner Dr. Joseph Mattioli, is the president of Pocono Raceway. Igdalsky spoke with me last week, just as he was preparing for NASCAR and ARCA to descend on Pocono for the track's first race weekend of the season, June 10-12. It's an incredibly busy time, but one that Igdalsky admits he lives for.

In this interview, Igdalsky took the time to talk with me about how he got into the family business, what makes Pocono different from other tracks and its foray into social media, as well as the sport's attendance issues.

Igdalsky also describes the safety improvements that have been implemented since two controversial wrecks last year (the upgrades were planned before the incidents occurred), addresses complaints about the quality of racing at Pocono and the length of its races, and whether IndyCar, a part of the track's past, could be part of its future.

Rebecca Kivak (RK): Your family has owned Pocono for more than 50 years, so I was definitely curious: what was it like growing up at the racetrack?
Brandon Igdalsky (BI): Actually I grew up in Philadelphia. My mom, who was Doc’s oldest daughter, was not involved with the raceway when I was a kid. So we would just come up for race weekends like every other fan, and get a hotel room for the weekend, and come over and go to the races. Sometimes we just came up for the race day itself. So the raceway growing up - it was there, but it wasn't a part of my life until I was about 13 years old. At 13, my grandfather said to me, “All right, you’re old enough, get your butt out here and let’s go to work.” June 16, 1989, the morning after our June race in ’89, I started working at the track my summers. That first year, that first Monday, I was out in the field cleaning up the garbage. Between that and the sewer plant (at the track), that was my main jobs for the first two years, and a little painting mixed in.

RK: When did you decide that you wanted to be part of the family business?
BI: Probably early 20s. I had been out doing a whole bunch of different things, had a real passion for the restaurant business. So I worked in a lot of restaurants over the course of my years, from busboy to waiter, to assistant manager and whatnot. It seems like for some reason, every time the races would come around to town, even if I wasn’t working here that summer, I would get called back for the races. It was like a moth being attracted to a bug zapper. And I’d coming running back for the races. It’s in my blood, I enjoy it, I love it. I look forward to these crazy weeks that we go through around the races. Personally I wish we did it more often because the adrenaline rush is just phenomenal.

And yeah, it was early 20s when I decided you know what, I think I want to make a career at the raceway. My grandfather encouraged us to go do something else before we made our decision. He did not want any of us coming out of school and going right to the job - he wanted us to go and learn and figure something else out.

RK: It sounds like he wanted you to be sure that this was what you wanted to do.
BI: Yup.

RK: One of the unique things about Pocono is that it’s one of three independently owned tracks on the Cup circuit. Do you feel that being independently owned – especially since you’ve been owned by the same family for so long – do you feel that that leads to a different atmosphere for the fans at the track? Especially since the fans know it’s not a big corporation that’s in charge.
BI: Without a doubt. I definitely think that it’s a much different experience. We’re not the glitz and glam of some of the big corporate tracks, we’re still that traditional racing feel. Obviously we’re constantly making changes, trying to keep it to what the fans want, and what they ask for and what they need. But it’s definitely a much different feel. Us, Dover, Indy – we all have that different feel. You can go to any track on the circuit, and you’ll feel a big difference between the SMI tracks, ISC tracks and Pocono.

RK: I’ve noticed too - I follow you on Twitter and Facebook - that the track has really amped up its presence in social media in the last year or so. You even send out reps to the different tracks for their tweetups and they give away swag and tickets. What kind of response have you been getting back from the fans, from the public?
BI: It’s been great. Our social media was pretty much myself and another guy here in the company getting on there and interacting with fans, but it outgrew what we had time to do. We actually hired an interactive digital marketing manager who oversees all that now and he’s the one you’ve seen at other tracks and going to Bob (Pockrass, from and Jeff’s (Gluck, from tweetups and interacting with the fans. And the fans love it – when they see us at another track, it gives us a little credibility – “hey, Pocono is out there with the fans, they’re having a good time.”

Down in Charlotte, I went to a tweetup. I enjoy going to the tweetups and interacting with the fans. I actually went to one in Dover as well. I encourage fans to give me the information – good or bad, I want to hear it, because we can’t get better if they don’t tell us what they don’t like. They can sit there and say that they love us all the time, but I’m sure there’s something they’d like to see different, and we’re willing to listen to that. If it’s something we can do, we’ll go and look at it down the road and we’ll do it. We need to listen to fans and what they’re telling us.

RK: It’s nice to see a track so active in getting that kind of feedback from the fans. 

With the economy struggling as much as it has been, attendance has been down at a lot of the tracks on the schedule. With that in mind, how would you describe Pocono’s attendance in these recent years?
BI: We’re definitely down from the heyday of the mid-90s, when it was pretty much the “if you built it they will come” mentality of the sport.… The economy has definitely hit this sport. But at the same time, all of the tracks are built so big, that even now, a lot of these tracks that are having a lot of open seats - you have to remember that these places are seating 140,000, 150,000 people, and they’re still drawing more than 100,000 people, they’re still bringing in more than an NFL game, they’re still bringing in more than a baseball game. But because of the open seats and the way it looks, people are going to tack the negative onto it. But if you look at the other side, we’re still drawing in more people for an event, an average event, than the NFL.

RK: I assume the social media must play into this, but what kind of things have you been doing to draw fans to the track?
BI: We’ve done many different ticket packages. We announced the Jimmie Johnson ticket package the other week, which has just been huge for us. (To) have a chance to buy a ticket package that includes a Q&A session with the five-time champion, just sit there for 15, 20 minutes and be right there within arm’s reach having a conversation with Jimmie Johnson. That’s been a huge success for us.

There are other things we’ve done throughout the season that the fans have really grasped and taken advantage of. Our renewal customers get a special incentive for buying their tickets early and keeping their seats, even upgrading their seats - they save a little money there. But the price of tickets is not what we have found to be a sticking point with our race fans. They’re comfortable with where our prices are. We haven’t raised our prices in almost 15 years. Before that, it was probably 10 years between the last raise. It seems like the tracks that have lowered ticket prices have come down to our prices, to where we were.

RK: I know one issue that will be on a lot of fans’ minds is safety. There’s been a lot of discussion about the safety issues at the track, especially after last year when there were two major wrecks with Kasey Kahne and Elliott Sadler. I also know that you’ve been working on a lot of safety improvements at the track. Would you be able to go into detail about those improvements?
BI: Prior to our June race last year, we announced that we were going to be putting 5,000 feet of SAFER barrier along the inside of the track. And then in August, Elliott had that pretty hard hit. But we were already ahead of that. If we could have done it between the races, we would have, but with 10 weeks - you’re not going to get that project done in 10 weeks. So after everybody left here in the fall, we went out there and we put the 5,000 feet of SAFER barrier, and likewise on the outside, from the entrance of turn 1 to the entrance of turn 2, there’s now a catchfence out there on the outside of the track as well, so you won’t see a repeat of what happened to Kasey out there.

RK: The two Pocono races, like you just mentioned, there’s only 10 weeks in between them - they are pretty close on the schedule. Has there been any talk about moving the races further apart?
BI: We wouldn’t want them further apart. We love them just the way they are. It’s part of our identity, it’s a part of a great summer here in the Poconos that you can enjoy. For us, it’s like having one race – get ‘em in, get ‘em done and let’s get ready for next year. Like I said earlier, if we could do them every weekend, I would. We love it the way it is, and our fans do too. None of our fans have ever come and said, “Hey, move the races farther apart.”

RK: Another thing that - you’ve probably heard this - that fans and even drivers comment on, sometimes they say that the racing at the track is not that exciting, it’s uneventful. There are people out there who say that Pocono should only have one race, or maybe they should trim it down, knock it off by 100 miles. What would be your response to those suggestions?

BI: Quit crying! (we both laugh)

It’s not supposed to be an easy race. These guys are professionals in sports. If they want easy, they can go back to the minors.

Our races – after they took the shifting out, it definitely changed the complexity of the race. A few years back, NASCAR changed the gear rule and they weren’t allowed to shift anymore. That was what really set the tone for a lot of the racing here at Pocono. Now it’s come down to a lot more aero, a lot more brakes. You saw that the first year they changed the gear package, when Jeff Gordon went into turn 1 and lost his brakes. They weren’t used to using that much brake here, because they could downshift going into the corners. And that’s how we got the moniker, the superspeedway that drives like a road course. Hopefully one day, NASCAR will do something - we can get the shifting back in there - or the engineers will figure out a way where they can get the shifting back in and make it work.

(Update: NASCAR confirmed Wednesday that shifting will be back at Pocono this weekend, with a new gear rule in place.)

I think every race has its lulls. I think the last few races here have been pretty spectacular races. The start and finish are definitely always great. We’ve had so many green-white checkers here it’s amazing. Any race will have a quiet period in the middle, it’s just the way the race is. Whether you knock 100 miles off or not, it’s still going to be the same.

RK: Every race is supposed to be an endurance race as it is, so …
BI: Doc Matt (Mattioli), my grandfather, always said that when Bruton (Smith) cuts the 600 to 500, then he’ll look at cutting our races to 400 (laughs). And knowing both of those guys, I don’t think either one of those things is going to happen any time soon!

RK: On the same train of thought, have you considered possibly reconfiguring the track, possibly to make some of the races stand out more on the schedule, like Daytona or Bristol?
BI: We’re always looking at different things to do moving forward in the future, and where the sport’s going to go and what we need to do to stay ahead of the sport or with the sport. There’s always conversations, you know, what if we do this, what if we do that. But no, there’s nothing concrete.

RK: What kind of events do you have planned for the future? I read that you were contemplating bringing back concerts to the track? (Pocono hosted a concert in 1972 that many people still talk about.)
BI: Yup. We’re working with some promoters now and looking at doing concerts behind the grandstands, not actually on the track – behind the grandstands and using the fields we have for concerts. We have a few promoters we’re working with and trying to get some stuff together, I think it’s mainly for 2012.

We’re constantly looking at adding events and what we’re doing here at Pocono. We run about 320 track days from early April to late October with different car clubs, driving schools, motorcycle, driving programs and different things. We have the three road courses within our facility, and each of those courses can be closed off to each other, so we can literally run three different groups on any given day at the same time. Most weekends during the summer, you’ll come by and you’ll see motorcycles pulling out of here, you’ll see sports cars pulling out of here. We call it the three-ring circus, because that’s exactly what it looks like out there – people and cars everywhere.

RK: Talking about the different kinds of series that race there – one series that used to race there was IndyCar. Would it be possible to get that series to run at Pocono again?
BI: I’m not going to say yes and I’m not going to say no to that one. I’m an IndyCar fan. This track was built by IndyCar guys, and we started with IndyCar. But at the same time, there’s a history of why they’re gone, but there’s a history of why they should be here too. There’s proponents on both sides of the aisle on that one, and for me, I think I’m riding both sides of that aisle.

RK: There’s a big emphasis in NASCAR right now of going green, and Pocono has certainly pulled its weight in that area. When your solar farm came online last fall, the track became the largest solar-powered sports facility in the world. What has been the local impact of switching solely to solar power?
BI: It’s been great, we’ve gotten so much recognition for it. And we didn’t set out to do it for recognition, we set out to do it because we needed to save money – the power was going to go up because of deregulation here. We needed to do what we needed to do.

It just so happens that what we did fits into a much larger green initiative that we’ve undertaken, and that motorsports as a whole – all sports in general, not even motorsports, but all sports in general – have really taken a lead with. You look at what the Eagles have done, with their recycling program and everything, and I think we all try to chase what they’ve done. We really ramped up our recycling program last year, with what we’re doing with Pepsi (Pocono was the first track to be part of the Dream Machine recycling program) and Waste Management. We did the solar farm, and all the other green stuff that comes with the sport – it’s really put us on the map in a much different light, with a whole new world of fans that hadn’t been to a race and called us now and said, “Hey, we’re going to come to a race now because of what you’re doing over there.” So there’s a lot of things that we didn’t look at that have come out of it, and we’re excited about it. It seems like the fans and the world as a whole are pretty excited about what we did here.

RK: Have you had any other tracks or sports facilities contact you about what you did and how you did it?
BI: We’re constantly, if we don’t get three or four calls a week about it. They’re starting to thin down a little bit now, but last year, when we were building it and everybody was following along, and especially when we finally turned it on in August, the phone was ringing off the hook. It was crazy, we were probably talking to five or six people a day. Now we’re down to a few people a week. But they’re still calling, they’re still asking questions, whether it’s a sports facility or a guy with a whole lot of land and they’re looking at doing it, but it’s everbody. Everybody’s got a question about solar, and we’re happy to talk about it.

You can actually go to our website and on our green page - it says Pocono Green - it talks about everything we’re doing on the sustainability side, as well as a link to the actual monitoring site for the solar farm, so you can go in and see in real time what it’s doing, how many gallons of gas we’ve saved, how many trees we’re equivalent to, and all kinds of pretty cool facts on there.

RK: My last question for you is: How are ticket sales looking for next week?
BI: Ticket sales are good. We still have some seats available, so we encourage people to come on out. Ticket sales so far have been pretty good.

The 5-Hour Energy 500 Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway begins at 1 p.m. ET Sunday and will be broadcast live on TNT. The Pocono 200 ARCA race gets under way at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. For tickets or more information about Pocono Raceway, visit

You can also follow Pocono Raceway on Twitter at @poconoraceway or on Facebook at
Brandon Igdalsky: The Man Behind the Tricky Triangle Brandon Igdalsky: The Man Behind the Tricky Triangle Reviewed by Rebecca Kivak on Thursday, June 09, 2011 Rating: 5