The racing season can lead to some pretty tight scheduling.
The heart of that is upon us, with three races set for the next three weekends, with the meat of that sandwich coming on an oval in my old stomping grounds.
I worked in St. Louis in the early 2000s and am excited to see the Verizon IndyCar Series return to Gateway Motorsports Park for high speeds on the tight oval.
Speaking of ovals of yesteryear, I took advantage of the recent scheduling gap by spending a few days in Colorado. While there, I ventured south of Colorado Springs to see Pikes Peak International Raceway.
It hasn't hosted an IndyCar event since 2005, when the great Dan Wheldon took the checkers. The track still stands, but today serves as a testing ground for some stock car teams, as well as a competition site for amateur racers. Nonetheless, like its namesake mountain that peers over from the horizon, it’s a venue that housed some great names in racing. It was cool to see it.
I enjoy visiting different areas that hold memories or significance in the worlds of sports and folklore.
Often times people ask what "field trips" I have planned along the season's travels. I appreciate the interest, as it lessens the guilt of taking in some sightseeing while on a corporate dime. (OK, so there actually isn't much guilt, but I digress).
Some of our weekends require extra time and research to find a landmark.
A few years ago in New Hampshire, I sought the home of Franklin Pierce. (He was our 14th President, by the way.) I took a "private" tour of the Astrodome while in Houston (not endorsed for legal purposes) and in Baltimore I found the real home of Edgar Allan Poe, and the fictional one of DeAngelo Barksdale from "The Wire." There's always good juice in the fruits of travel, it just depends how hard you squeeze.
Which brings us to Pocono. It's the next stop on the schedule, and I'll begin the weekend as I have each of the last few years -- with a day in New York City. It's the greatest city in the world, and the site of my 1994 MTV internship, so I have a lot of nostalgic stops in Manhattan. It's another New York landmark that is the highlight of my Pocono trips, however, that jumps out to me.
The Verizon IndyCar Series made its return to Pocono Raceway in 2013 after a two-decade hiatus. I immediately began scouring maps. So, after the first day of practice that year, I, along with my Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network co-workers Mark Jaynes and Nick Yeoman, set out for a 90-minute road trip.
During the back-road drive through the hills of Pennsylvania and into the trees of New York, all I could think was "How in the heck did ANYONE find this place over 40 years ago?"
Eventually, the forests opened up and the dense tree lines gave way to rolling hills and open farmland. It was a serene tapestry, yet one that was screaming of history and culture.
Finally, a historical marker pointed the way. I parked the car, crossed through a single line of evergreens, and the land stretched out below me. A large sign confirmed what was obvious as my eye met my recollections of photos, videos and articles.
"This is the site of the original Woodstock Music and Arts Fair."
I love history, and to try to place myself back in a frozen moment. Standing on the site of the Woodstock stage, I could see where Janis Joplin headlined and Jimi Hendrix did the electrical anthem. It was placid and quiet, yet electric still the same.
After finding the stage location, the three of us stopped to eat in a nearby Mom and Pop eatery. I did a double take when they brought my bill.
"This has to be intentional," I thought and saw such a coincidence that I asked the manager if my total was by design.
No, he informed me, I added some things to my order that were not part of any daily special. It was pure coincidence, in the shadows of Max Yasgur's farm that hosted the Woodstock festival, that my bill was $19.69. I still have the receipt.
At any rate, back to racing.
A few years ago when Juan Pablo Montoya won at Pocono, I recall thinking it cemented his acclamation back from NASCAR. We now return to Pocono amidst perhaps another epiphany: that, as Nick Yeoman astutely said a few weeks ago, we may be seeing the beginning of the Josef Newgarden era.
The young Tennessean is the points leader in his first year with Roger Penske, and enters this weekend off back-to-back wins at Toronto and Mid-Ohio.
I've been covering Josef since the day he arrived in Indy Lights, and the guy hasn't changed. Likable, personable and gregarious, Newgarden still seems as comfortable as he was the first time he dipped his seemingly webbed toes into racing waters.
The only thing different today: He's now driving for the most historic team in the paddock.
It's fun to know you have a chance to see history as it unfolds.
It might save you a road trip in 40 years.