For Family Of Late Pocono Founder, NASCAR Weekend Brings Mixed Feelings

Ten months ago, Dr. Joseph Mattioli called a news conference at Pocono Raceway and didn't tell anyone what it was about.

As his unsuspecting family stood nearby, Mattioli announced he was retiring and would be handing full control of the Pennsylvania racetrack to three of his grandchildren.

That was always the plan -- he'd been grooming the grandkids to be his successors for their entire lives -- but that the day had arrived so suddenly came as a shock.

"You never think that day is actually going to come," said Brandon Igdalsky, one of Mattioli's grandsons and the Pocono Raceway president. "It was a surreal moment as I stood there and heard him say this. There was no warning. I had no idea; none of us did."

Five and a half months later, Igdalsky and his siblings faced another day they hoped would never come. Doc Mattioli, who founded the track in the early 1960s and ran it until that August news conference, died at age 86.

Now, with NASCAR returning to Pocono for the first time since Mattioli's death, his grandchildren are faced with not only handling their first race at the helm, but also dealing with the reality that the man they called "Pop" is gone.

"It's going to be tough, to be honest with you," Igdalsky said this week over the phone. "For the first time ever, he's not going to be there. To not see his face and not hear him laugh and giggle at the start of the race, it's going to be different. To not see him there with my grandmother for driver introductions is going to be tough for all of us."

There is nowhere on the track's expansive property where Igdalsky and his siblings can travel without thinking of their grandfather.

Mattioli's presence has always been tangible at the track, mostly because he seemed to be everywhere. From the old-school pre-race ceremonies to ordering all the cars in the press parking lot to face the same direction, Mattioli had a vision for his facility that he worked hard to maintain.

The grandkids -- Brandon (president and chief executive officer), his brother Nick (vice president and chief operating officer) and sister Ashley (secretary/treasurer) -- don't plan to to stray from Mattioli's core values, such as keeping ticket prices flat and treating the race fans like family.

But there have been major changes since the last time NASCAR raced at Pocono. There's brand new asphalt on the 2.5-mile triangle and the distance of the race has been reduced to 400 miles.

Those changes, though, happened with Mattioli's blessing. He even signed the sanctioning agreement that reduced the race to 400 miles before he ceded control.

And one of the biggest changes: After a lifetime of lessons, his grandchildren will officially be at the helm for the first time.

"What he instilled with us was his love for the fans and competitors," Igdalsky said. "The fans and everybody in this sport are as much a part of our family as anybody can be. That was part of the way he wanted it and part of what we're going to continue.

"That was who he was, and that piece of him is never going to go away from here."

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