I want to relate a story and then I want to share why I believe members of our community should join my son Eli and I at Pocono Raceway several times each summer.
Recently, I was at a business meeting in central Florida and a lawyer at the meeting talked about how the next person she was meeting with was a NASCAR team owner. I responded that the team he owns is really having a great season despite some issues on pit lane. The attorney looked right at me and said “But you’re . . . Why do you know about that?” So, I know that in that pause while she looked at the kippah on my head that the words she meant to say were “Jewish” or maybe “Jewish and from New York.” While possibly politically incorrect, I completely understand where she is coming from and there is factual basis for her puzzlement. Until the current two time defending champion in NASCAR Europe, Alon Day, there has never been a Jewish celebrity in the sport. Further, auto-racing in general has developed in areas of the country with sparse Jewish population density.
Despite history, there are many reasons why members from our community should attend the most important racetrack in the Northeastern United States, Pocono Raceway, which is only about ninety minutes away by car. Recently, Nick Igdalsky, CEO of the Pocono Raceway, sat down for an interview to discuss the track and its potential appeal to our community.
Mr. Igdalsky told me when I explained that in our community we tend to have larger than average families, “We value families and we want mom, dad and kids to create lasting memories here. We offer free admission for up to four children per adult. When you arrive there is free face-painting, free carnival rides and free bounce houses. The first year someone attends a race, the adult tickets start at $45, but the price drops when you return the next year to encourage people to make this a regular part of a family’s calendar.”
Additionally, he noted, “People with dietary restrictions will not be given any difficulties at our races. Fans are welcome to bring in their own food and drinks. Many of the packaged items for sale by our vendors are kosher but guests should feel free to bring their own food that they are comfortable with.”
He continued with something that I believe is very close to our minds and hearts in our community, “We want every family to be able to come and especially we want fans young and old with special needs to feel completely part of the experience. We have built an inclusive playground that was designed for children of all ages and abilities to learn, grow and play together. Knowing that for people with a range of conditions, sensory needs must be attended to in order to create a safe, enjoyable atmosphere, we have sensory bags, equipped with noise cancelling headphones, fidget tools, verbal cue cards and weighted lap pads. Additionally, we have two dedicated sensory rooms. We are so proud to be certified Sensory Inclusive by a national certifying agency, KultureCity.”
I mentioned that it can be often be impossible for our children to get close to the stars at the more traditional New York City sports venues and he told me, “Howie, you have been here before. Every weekend we have multiple drivers available to sign autographs and take pictures. The most famous drivers come here expecting to interact with fans and we do everything to make that possible.”
As someone who has been attending races at Pocono Raceway for the last several summers, there are some additional points that I believe make this a great destination for our community. I didn’t have a chance to touch on these during the 30 minute interview, but I am pretty sure Mr. Igdalsky would echo my observations:
We are among the most Zionistic communities in the diaspora. We realize that peace and security requires strength and sacrifice. At each race weekend, Pocono Raceway invites members of the US Armed Forces to meet with fans and to be honored. We are so fortunate to live in a community where our freedoms and liberty are not constant sources of worry. These men and women are the reason why and our ability to show them hakarat hatov is important.
I have not mentioned anything about the main event at each race weekend – the race that takes place on Sunday afternoon. The reason for that is describing it to someone who has never attended is nearly impossible. The speed, the sound, the burning rubber and the emotions can only be experienced.
The next race weekend features NASCAR on July 26-28. Following that, there is an INDYCAR race on August 18. My hope is soon we can daven Mincha at the race just like at CitiField and Yankee Stadium. Right now Eli (8 years-old) and I are only nine men short!
By Howard Forman