IndyCar driver Ed Carpenter had the chance to take a drive around Pocono Raceway, and promptly handed the car keys to racing great Mario Andretti.
With Pocono officially back on the IndyCar schedule after a 23-year absence, Carpenter wanted to pick up as many tips as possible from someone with experience at "The Tricky Triangle." Andretti was all too happy to turn some laps at Monday's event because "I am too damn old to drive this thing" in next July's race.
The return to Pocono is being celebrated as a nod to IndyCar's history and tradition. Pocono's three corners were designed in 1965 to model corners at Indianapolis, Milwaukee and now-defunct Trenton, and fans have always considered the track an important venue in open wheel racing.
"It was music to my ears when some of the noise began flying around we might be coming back," said Andretti, who lives in Pennsylvania. "This facility means not only a great deal to me personally, but also to the Northeast area fans that have been here since the beginning. The drivers will love this place - the challenges it presents are just second to none as far as a superspeedway. There's nothing but good things ahead."
Carpenter recognized that when he entered the infield, where IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard and Pocono CEO Brandon Igdalsky on Monday celebrated the series return.
"Just pulling through the tunnel and coming into the facility, you get the feeling that this is a special place, the same kind of feeling that I get in Indianapolis, so I can't wait to get on track here in an IndyCar," said Carpenter.
With the return to Pocono comes the return of the "Triple Crown" challenge, which will award $1 million to a driver that wins the Indianapolis 500, the 400-miler at Pocono and the season finale at Fontana, Calif. The challenge will give $250,000 if a driver wins two of the three races.
"If you are going to bring history back, then you bring back Pocono and the Triple Crown," Bernard said. "That's what fans have been asking for the three years I've been here."
Pocono was part of a Triple Crown from 1971-1980 that included the Indianapolis 500, Pocono 500, and California 500 at Ontario. Al Unser in 1978 was the only driver to win all three in the same season. Ontario was closed in 1980, and replaced with the Michigan 500 through 1989, when Pocono stopped hosting open wheel racing.
But Igdalsky said fans had been vocal in wanting IndyCar back at the track.
"The excitement level is through the roof," Igdalsky said.
The race will only be 400 miles instead of the traditional 500 because Bernard wanted it on ABC, which gave IndyCar a three-hour coverage window.
Pocono was one of two new venues announced Sunday night by Bernard on a 19-race schedule for next season. The schedule includes doubleheader races at Detroit, Toronto and Houston, which is the other new venue.
A proposal for a street race in Providence, R.I., did not make the schedule because Bernard said promoters "ran out of time" to finalize a deal for the 2013 season and Bernard said he's not likely to add any more events for next year.
The scheduling announcements were threatened to be overshadowed Monday by a report that the IndyCar Series is considering an offer to sell to a group of team owners who had pooled their resources. Jeff Belskus, president and CEO of Hulman & Co. and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corp., denied the report Monday and said the series "is not for sale" and the board has not received or considered any offers to purchase the series.
"The racing in 2012 showcased great competition on track and added to the foundation for growing the series," he said in a statement. "The just-announced 2013 schedule includes several new twists that could make the racing even more exciting. The combination of the return of nearly all the 2012 venues, including all the ovals, the addition of new tracks and the revival of the Triple Crown award make this one of the most exciting schedules in recent memory."