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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The challenge of finding entertainment that is appropriate for children of different ages and affordable for large families is a topic that comes up frequently when groups of parents gather together. For the last several summers, my son Eli and I have traveled to the Pocono Raceway, which is less than a two-hour drive from Teaneck. I have realized this is a wonderful, affordable day trip that is under-utilized by members of our community.

A day at the Pocono Raceway is not just about car racing but really a combination sporting event, auto show, carnival and sponsor village. At the racetrack, children will have the chance to spend hours in inflated jump houses with no waiting. With less than a 10-minute wait, children can also have their faces painted at no additional charge. Adults and kids can see the latest high-performance vehicles and take pictures behind the wheels of race cars.

Throughout the day, sponsors like the US Army, Pennsylvania State Police and others share patriotic and positive messages that are in keeping with our community values. In addition to speaking, these organizations will have small toy giveaways and also games for children to play (remote control car races, Wheel-of-Fortune). Generally NASA and Toyota, Ford and GM have booths focusing on high-tech engineering for children interested in STEM. A person motivated to collect as much free stuff as possible will likely need a large bag to get the towels, hats, shirts and toys home. My experience has been that sponsors will frequently give out bags for people to collect things in but you can bring a bag from home if you don’t want to chance it.

In addition to all of the activities that are tangentially related to the main event, everyone can attend Q and A sessions with the race-car drivers. After these sessions, the drivers will make themselves available to give autographs to children and take photographs with them. Although the cars in the race look like ones you would see in any dealership, each car costs at least $20 million a year to build and maintain and the drivers are aware that good relationships with the fans are essential to getting the sponsorship necessary to stay on the track.

But what about the racing?

NASCAR, the most popular form of auto racing in the US, makes two trips to the Pocono Raceway this year. The most recognizable names of racers to people who don’t follow the sport closely, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Danica Patrick, both race in the NASCAR series. Compared to other forms of racing, NASCAR involves lots of nudging and bumping, which at nearly 200 mph can make exciting races and occasionally jaw-dropping crashes.

How little does it cost?

On Fridays, admission is $10 per adult and all children are admitted for free. Friday is a day when the cars practice (which to a non-enthusiast may actually be the best way to start testing out whether they have interest in the full races). Additionally on Friday, there may be a minor-league race, which can be a great way to see prospects as well as to experience a much shorter race (90 minutes versus 3 hours for a full NASCAR race).

On Sundays, when the main race occurs, tickets can be as cheap as $45 per adult/$22.50 per child and range all the way up to several hundred dollars if you want to be in an air-conditioned skybox with legends of racing regaling you with stories of their glory days.

On all days, fans are allowed to bring in their own food and drinks which further reduces the cost and is great from a kashrut standpoint.

Dates:

June 9: NASCAR Practice/$10 adult admission with children admitted free

June 11: NASCAR Pocono 400 Race/$45 admission with children 50% off.

July 28: NASCAR Practice/$10 adult admission with children admitted free

July 30: NASCAR Pocono 400 Race/$25 admission

By Howard Forman