CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Joseph Mattioli, the founder and chairman of Pocono Raceway, has died following a lengthy illness.

NASCAR officials made the announcement Thursday during a preseason press conference at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. He was 86.

Bob Pleban, the vice-president of administration at Pocono Raceway, confirmed the news to The Associated Press, saying family members informed him Mattioli passed away around 1 p.m ET on Thursday at Lehigh Valley Hospital Center in Allentown, Pa. He said Mattioli's family members were gathered at his side at the time of his death.

Mattioli, a dentist known as "Doc" to friends and associates, founded Pocono Raceway in the early 1960's and ran the speedway for more than four decades with his wife Rose. Under his leadership, the track grew in stature and has hosted 68 very successful NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events.

Mattioli and his wife, Rose, retired last year, handing over control of Pocono Raceway to their eldest three grandchildren.

His passing leaves a void in the NASCAR community, according to NASCAR CEO and chairman Brian France.

"He was a friend from the very beginning with my grandfather and I'm sad to hear the news," France said. "I'm very close with the Mattioli family.

"Obviously our hearts go out to them. He was a great man and cared a lot about this sport."

Added NASCAR president Mike Helton: "Doc was symbolic of the passion of our sport. When you say Pocono everybody has their own different interpretation. But it's certainly shows the character and passion and impact that Doc and Rose made on our sport, and that is one that will be forever engrained in that track. I'm sad to hear of his passing."

Pocono Raceway is the only remaining family owned and run track on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule.

A release by Pocono Speedway said Mattioli "kept his fingers on the pulse of stock car racing and read everything printed concerning the sport. He was in the office daily, until last fall, and oversaw all aspects of the Pocono Raceway operations."

At age 83, Mattioli spearheaded an ambitious solar energy project. He built a three megawatt photovoltaic solar energy system at Pocono Raceway. It is the world's largest solar-powered sports facility, making Pocono Raceway a leader in the renewable energy and environmental fields.

In 2009, he received the Philanthropic Lifetime Achievement award presented by the Association of Fundraising Professionals for his generous and continuous contributions to local civic organizations, hospitals, schools and charities.

Mattioli served in the Pacific during the Second World War as a Navy medic.

Using the G.I. bill, he enrolled in the dentistry program at Temple University, where he met his soon to be wife, Rose.

Upon graduation, he developed his dental practice into a very lucrative business by working extensive hours. He began investing in and developing properties in Philadelphia and Northeastern Pennsylvania where he became involved in the startup process of what would become Pocono Raceway.

Mattioli is survived by his wife of 63 years, Dr. Rose, daughters Louie and Michele and son Joseph Mattioli III, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

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