Tony Lumbis · Sunday January 29, 2012
Last week, the racing world lost Dr. Joseph Mattioli, founder, Chairman Of The Board and – until five months ago – CEO of Pocono Raceway. However, “Doc”, as he was known, was much more than those titles would suggest. He was a philanthropist, visionary, businessman and environmentalist. His actions fulfilling those roles have had a positive impact on millions, myself included.
While Doc wore many hats, the one consistency throughout his life is that he lived to help other people. From his service to our country during World War II to tending to the dental health of Philadelphia residents, it was evident early on that Mattioli was intent was on making a difference in the lives of others. After finishing school, Mattioli was well on his way to establishing a successful dentistry practice, quickly reaching a point in his career where many simply dream of reaching. But that wasn’t enough for Doc Mattioli. He was always looking for new ways to make a difference, a desire that lead him to develop a piece of land in northeastern Pennsylvania that would eventually become the Pocono Raceway in 1968. The impacts of that investment would be far reaching for decades to come.
The triangular-shaped track, now 43 years old would bring much more to the Pocono Mountain region than the nation’s top forms of racing. Today, it is estimated that the two NASCAR dates bring in over $300 million annually to the local economy and attract potential new visitors to the area who may have not known about the Poconos otherwise. Local hotels and restaurants enjoy a boost from not only the spectators but the drivers, teams, officials and production crews associated with each racing event. So not only have businesses benefited from the presence of Pocono Raceway, but so do local residents.
I grew up about 50 miles to the northwest of Long Pond, PA, the town where the track is located. When I became interested in the sport of NASCAR, my dad took me to the 1993 Champion Spark Plug 500, which referred to the June event at that time. The entire weekend was a memorable one, from getting driver autographs to experiencing a live race to spending some quality time with my father. The NASCAR weekend at the Pocono Raceway quickly became a tradition; we have gone every year since.
Years later when I had the desire to go from NASCAR fan to participant in the industry, it was Pocono that I turned to for helping me achieve my goals. In 1983, what is today known as the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards, was in a state of flux and its future was in doubt. It was then that Mattioli invited the series to compete at his racetrack, giving the tour much-needed publicity. Doc’s loyalty translated into 53 more ARCA events and counting, a trend that eventually impacted my life. In 2006, I was in the garage area for the Pocono 200 when I meet driver Art Seeger, who gave me my first break in the industry by offering a job as his business manager.
A year later, I worked at the Pocono 500 as a new writer for Frontstretch.com, where I conducted my first driver interviews and covered my first stories. Ever since that weekend, I continued to make new connections, meet new friends and learn more about the NASCAR business in the infield of Pocono Raceway, opportunities that would have been much more difficult to come by if Doc never pursued his dream – one he kept alive for over 40 years.
I had the privilege of interviewing Mattioli in 2010 for an article I was working on about independent track ownership on the Sprint Cup circuit. I can remember going into that call expecting to talk to a man who was engaged in a daily battle to keep his track relevant, especially during a time when conglomerates were on the prowl. They were purchasing rival raceways, closing some of them while the entire sport of NASCAR was feeling the ill effects of declining TV ratings, attendance and sponsorship dollars. Instead, Doc was a man who was confident and at ease about his business and more importantly, at peace with where he was in his life. What I learned is that while Mattioli was growing his empire and making it better, he was also spending a significant amount of time ensuring that it would be sustainable for years to come.
“We had many good years when all the seats were sold. We put that money away, and we began carrying large balances in reserve. We invested well,” Doc proudly told me when I asked him how Pocono was surviving a time of financial uncertainty for many in the sport. He went on to explain how he recognized long ago that diversifying his business would help to ensure that a stream of revenue was always coming in from somewhere. It was that thought process that lead the businessman to embark on projects such as building the largest solar energy park in the state, one that opened in 2010 and will produce 72,000,000 kilowatt hours of energy within the next 20 years. Environmentally sound, it should be of no surprise that one of Doc’s diversification projects was aimed at making the world a better place.
The most surprising aspect of that call came in the form of his response to my question about whether or not he was concerned when NASCAR considered building a track on Staten Island, just over 100 miles from Long Pond. His answer was the complete opposite of what I expected. “If they put a track in New York City, it would bring in new fans,” he exclaimed. “We’re the closest track to them, so when they want to see another race, we are the most logical place to go next.” In fact, he applied the same theory when I asked him about ISC and SMI, the two companies who own all but three tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit. “To me, all of our tracks are not competing, they are helping each other out,” he said. “The more fans they build, the more they spread, and we all benefit.” In an age where our society is divided over everything from government to clothing styles, Doc’s view about cooperation for the greater good was not only insightful, but refreshing.
Doc Mattioli’s vision, and more importantly, his execution of those ideas have made a tremendous impact on my life, but I am just one of thousands, if not millions whose lives he touched in some form. Doc’s courage to risk his own money and time to make a substantial investment in northeastern Pennsylvania, as well as his passion to ensure the facility would become a mainstay in the community, have provided families with the opportunity to spend quality time together and many more individuals with the chance to become involved in the sport they love. Pocono Raceway has become a facility that has meant a lot of things to a lot of people over the years, beyond just a location to watch races. It is a venue that I have been, and always will be, proud to call my “home track.”
John F. Kennedy once said, “One man can make a difference, and every man should try.” To understand what Kennedy was saying, one needs to look no further than Doc Mattioli’s life. I will always be thankful for the difference Doc has made in his community and the lives of the people who live and work in it. Finally, to Rose Mattioli and all of the family and friends of Dr. Joseph Mattioli, I offer my sincerest condolences on the loss of such an extraordinary man.
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