A Philadelphia banker, of all people, is auto racing's unknown hero, according to Dr. Joseph Mattioli, proprietor of Pocono Raceway near Hazleton, Pa., where the seventh annual Schaefer 500-miler for Indianapolis cars will be run Sunday, June 26.
"It's because of John Bunting that we have turned the corner and are on the way to becoming a solid business venture," said Mattioli. Bunting is board chairman of the First Pennsylvania Bank:
"He restructured our mortgage Joan last year," explained Mattioli. "He eased our debt burden and stretched out the payments. Now we have some leeway in operating."
Mattioli feels Bunting acted favorably because, "He could see Pocono is an important part of this area's economy and is a big income producer from tourists which is the state's biggest industry. I think he also felt my seven associates and I are working successfully operating this track."
It may have helped that Bunting once sold programs at the old Yellow-jacket Speedway in Philadelphia. His first racing hero, Dutch Schaefer, is still driving and winning in midget race cars, Mattioli added.
Next week A. J. Foyt, a two-time Pocono winner, will be favored in the $400,000 race. Johnny Rutherford and the Unser brothers, Bobby and Al, Indianapolis winners all, have also entered. The San Giorgio Time Trials are on Thursday to qualify 33 starters.
"I got into managing the track in 1970 because I already had a very substantial investment in it dating back to 1963," said Mattioli. "As my investment grew, I began studying and visiting other tracks. Once I took over. We built the track in ten months, right through the winter."
The result was a triangular track, all of it in sight of the grandstands, with no two turns alike. The 500-mile record is 156.7 miles per hour set by Rutherford in 1974.
"We made some mistakes those early years," admitted Mattioli. We really thought all we had to do was open the gates and people would flock in. Of course, they didn't at first."
So, frills were cut. No more bronze official badges, like Indianapolis, but cardboard. That saved $9,500 a year. Stopping use of an "800" phone number saved $18,000 a year. "The fact is our track operations cost has actually decreased since 1971. It's amazing," he stated.
Pocono also overcome its traffic problems, which had condemned fans to crawling along two-lane country roads. The parking area, which is free, still gets soggy when it rains, but otherwise is satisfactory.
"A full-time staff of six operates the track, said Mattioli. "We have 600 to 800 employees for races."
Pocono is far busier than most super-speedways which have only two to four major meets a year. It runs the Coke 500 for Grand National Stock cars, championship events for motorcycles and sports cars on its road course, and rich races for stock and mini-sedans on its 3/4-mile oval. "We charge $8,000 a day to rent the track," says Mattioli. "But, we will joint venture race meets with reputable promoters and we want to."
The track has a long list of commercial sponsors, also, because of Mattioli's unusual, "We don't ask for money" approach. "We ask them to earmark some of their regular advertising effort for our races. That sells tickets," he said. "If a sponsor withdraws, and some do, we haven't lost income and we have gained ticket sales which we feel we can retain."
In spite of Pocono's success, Mattioli feels it unlikely another super-speedway will be built in the Northeast. "This track cost about $8 million to build and would cost $20 million today. The cost of debt service would be overwhelming. FInding suitable land and satisfying environmental concerns are two other problems not easy to solve."
Mattioli is a dentist who still practices one day a week.