Dr. Rose Mattioli, who co-founded Pocono Raceway with her husband and served as the Pennsylvania track’s matriarch for more than five decades, died Monday. She was 92.
Dr. Rose and Dr. Joseph “Doc” Mattioli established the 2.5-mile speedway in 1968 on land they developed in Long Pond in the Pocono Mountains. Their track’s first major event for IndyCars came in 1971. Pocono became an annual stop for the NASCAR Cup Series in 1974 and moved to two races per year in 1982.
“Dr. Rose was the heart and soul of Pocono Raceway for over 50 years,” read a statement from the Mattioli and Igdalsky families. “She would often tell us, ‘I love Pocono and auto racing more than Doc,’ and we believed her. While Doc moved the mountains, Rose moved your spirit. Dr. Rose’s contributions to motorsports and her philanthropic efforts will always live in a class of their own. She played a vital role in allowing women into auto racing garage areas during an era where they were otherwise unwelcome.
“Additionally, Dr. Rose and Doc gave back to the community, often anonymously and without hesitation. Her passing has motivated us to remain steadfast, now more than ever, to never waiver from Rose and Doc’s commitment of always doing right by our Pocono Raceway family, our fans, our local community and the auto racing industry. While we will miss her, we take comfort in knowing Rose and Doc are reunited and that their legacy will live on forever.”
NASCAR Chairman & CEO Jim France and NASCAR Executive Vice Chair Lesa Kennedy issued the following statement: “Our family and all of NASCAR is saddened to learn of the passing of Dr. Rose Mattioli. For three generations, the relationship between our families has been more personal than professional. Rose and Doc created a unique racing experience at Pocono Raceway, bringing a passion for race fans and love of racing to everything they touched. On behalf of the France family and the entire motorsports industry, NASCAR extends our deepest condolences to the Mattioli family during this difficult time.”
The Mattiolis had met in 1947 while attending Temple University, with Dr. Rose studying podiatry and Dr. Joseph dentistry. They eloped one year later and celebrated their marriage in an “official” ceremony with family and friends on Aug. 5, 1950. Dr. Joseph Mattioli died in 2012.
The Mattiolis practiced medicine in northeast Philadelphia for years, branching out with investments by purchasing a share of an area golf course and a housing development in the early 1960s. When a proposal for an auto-racing venue on a large piece of land in the mountains arrived in 1963, they listened and eventually invested $50,000 in the venture. Days later, their family attended their first race at a dirt track in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.
“Well, by the end of the day, one half of my face was white and the other was red from the clay and dust,” Dr. Joseph Mattioli told The Morning Call from Allentown, Pennsylvania in 1971. “I had my ears stuffed with tissue because of the noise. I remember telling Rose that I thought maybe we had made a mistake.”
Six years after their initial investment and eager to attract big-league racing to the area, the Mattiolis went from mostly silent partners to the driving force behind the raceway that would become their lives’ work.
Dr. Rose Mattioli told reporters that they came to motorsports as investors who were quickly converted to fans. By the time the NASCAR Cup Series arrived at Pocono in 1974, the former site of a spinach farm was already busy hosting IndyCars, NASCAR Modifieds and USAC stock-car events.
Racing at the track evolved through the years, but Dr. Rose Mattioli’s presence at Pocono remained a constant. On the eve of his final NASCAR Cup Series start at the 2.5-mile track in 2016, three-time series champion Tony Stewart vowed to return, saying, “I’m going to be here next year and still want to see Dr. Rose.”
Dr. Rose Mattioli will be remembered not just for her work in establishing Pocono Raceway, but for her philanthropic efforts. The Mattioli Foundation established scholarships and supported numerous charities in Northeast Pennsylvania. The track launched the Rose Pedals program in 2017, an all-women’s initiative that provides mentoring and volunteer services designed to expand opportunities for girls and women in the Pocono community.
Memorial services will be private. Dr. Rose Mattioli is survived by two daughters, Looie and Michele, and a son, Joseph III, along with seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.