The 2023 Great Pocono Raceway Airshow
Story and photos by Corey Beitler
Located in the beautiful Pocono Mountains near Long Pond, Pennsylvania, Pocono Raceway is one of the world’s most unique superspeedways because of its unique triangle configuration and its three turns, each with a different degree of banking, and modeled after turns at other racetracks. The three unique turns and the three straight stretches, each different lengths, make Pocono Raceway challenging for drivers and race teams setting up their cars. This unique layout has given Pocono Speedway the longstanding nickname “The Tricky Triangle”. In addition to the superspeedway racing surface, Pocono’s infield has a road course that can be set up in multiple configurations for sports car and motorcycle racing. Since its opening in 1971, Pocono Raceway has regularly hosted major racing events sanctioned by NASCAR, IndyCar, IMSA, AMA Superbike, and the Trans-Am Series.
In addition to its racing events, Pocono Raceway hosts club racing and driving schools on non-race weekends. Since 2019, Pocono Raceway has also hosted The Great Pocono Raceway Airshow. The airshow takes place over the infield and racing surface of the speedway, with the main grandstand being used for spectator seating. Aircraft performing in the airshow operate out of the nearby Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport. The inaugural airshow was held in 2019. The coronavirus pandemic canceled the 2020 edition of the airshow but the event returned for 2021. Although scheduled to be held again last year, complications with sponsorship and obtaining performers led to the airshow being postponed to 2023.
The 2023 Great Pocono Raceway Airshow was held on May 27-28, 2023. This year’s airshow was highlighted by performances from the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and the U.S. Air Force’s F-22 Raptor Demonstration Team. The airshow also included a search and rescue demonstration by a U.S. Coast Guard MH-65D Dolphin helicopter and its flight crew from U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City. Civilian performers included Rick Volker in his rare Soviet-built Sukhoi Su-26M aerobatic aircraft, Rob Holland in his custom-built MX-SRH aerobatic aircraft, and Jerry Conley flying his rare de Havilland DH-115 Vampire vintage jet.
Jim Beasley Jr. also made an appearance at the airshow with his restored World War II-era P-51 Mustang “Bald Eagle” to fly the U.S. Air Force Heritage Flight with the F-22 Raptor. The airshow operations were coordinated by David Schultz Airshows and the airshow was announced by Fast Eddie Leuter, who has taken the place of the late Howdy McCann Jr. as the primary airshow announcer at David Schultz Airshows. In addition to the flying activities at the airshow, a Fan Fair and Carnival were set up behind the main bleachers that featured displays by local businesses and organizations, kiddie amusement rides, and merchandise and food vendors. Although food lines were long and traffic getting in and out of the speedway did become congested, the event as a whole was well-planned and well-organized.
The airshow was well-attended each day it was held, with Pocono Raceway’s main grandstand being full of families and aviation enthusiasts. For the airshow, Pocono Raceway sold tickets for the grandstand’s 300 upper-level and 200 lower-level seating. The 100-level seating, used as general admission for NASCAR racing events, was closed off for the airshow because the seating is too close to the aerobatic box. Likewise, all infield areas at Pocono Raceway were off-limits to spectators. For each airshow day, the 300-level seating was sold out and the 200-level was 75 to 80 percent full. Track management was extremely pleased with the turnout on both days of the event. The airshow was also blessed by excellent weather on both days, with bright sunshine and clear skies and seasonal temperatures for Northeastern Pennsylvania this time of year. From overhearing many conversations in the grandstand, many families chose to make the airshow part of their Memorial Day Weekend plans in the Pocono Mountains.