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Tumbles, Triumph and Tragedy: Pocono Raceway

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Pocono Raceway is as unique a track as the NASCAR circuit visits each year. The length — 2.5 miles — may not be out of the ordinary, but the configuration is. Three straightaways of different lengths transition into three corners, none the same as the last. These corners were modeled after three historic speedways: now-defunct Trenton (Turn 1), Indianapolis (Turn 2) and the Milwaukee Mile (Turn 3). The Long Pond, Pa., track has also played host to some of NASCAR's most memorable wins and terrifying moments. Twleve of those moments are highlighted here by Athlon Sports contributor Vito Pugliese.

Tumbles, Triumph and Tragedy — Pocono Raceway

Pocono Raceway is as unique a track as the NASCAR circuit visits each year. The length — 2.5 miles — may not be out of the ordinary, but the configuration is. Three straightaways of different lengths transition into three corners, none the same as the last. These corners were modeled after three historic speedways: now-defunct Trenton (Turn 1), Indianapolis (Turn 2) and the Milwaukee Mile (Turn 3). The Long Pond, Pa., track has also played host to some of NASCAR's most memorable wins and terrifying moments. Twleve of those moments are highlighted here by Athlon Sports contributor Vito Pugliese.

12. "The Intimidator" is … inverted

Before softwalls and seats situated in the middle of the car, stock cars actually looked like stock cars. They crashed like them, too. In 1982, Dale Earnhardt and Tim Richmond got together here in Turn 1. Earnhardt would end up with a broken kneecap, and Richmond, uninjured, helped him down across the track. Not often you see a guy help someone who just dumped him at that speed.

11. DW nearly pulls off No. 85

Despite three Winston Cup titles, 84 career wins and a Daytona 500 to his credit, Darrell Waltrip is known to most fans as the guy who’s yelling “Boogity, Boogity, Boogity” each week — and whose last years behind the wheel were largely forgettable. Running his own team starting in 1991, things took a downturn as technology and the sport outgrew his operation. Forced to sell his team, he ended up getting a call from Dale Earnhardt in 1998 to sub for an injured Steve Park in DEI’s No. 1 Pennzoil ride. It didn’t take long for him to get this new team up to speed, as he nearly won Pocono in ’98, dueling with fellow Owensboro, Ky., native Jeremy Mayfield for the win. Pick up the action at the 6:00 mark and for post-race reaction fast forward to around the 10:00 minute mark. The Boogity schtick may be tired, but Darrell has passion — and was one helluva race car driver. You gotta love that.

10. DEI teammates go for a ride

Dale Earnhardt, Inc. was in turmoil after the passing of Dale Earnhardt in 2001. In September of that year, Steve Park was critically injured at a Busch race in Darlington when his steering wheel came off under caution, and he was t-boned by another driver catching up to the field. His first race back at Pocono didn’t last long — or go very well. Check out this harrowing moment between Park and teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., and how close they come to knocking over the camera scaffolding. While his Daytona 500 selfies and blooming Twitter presence are what we think of Junior today, the sight of him running to his teammate’s aid after all everybody had gone through a year earlier is one of the most indelible images of his career.

9. The Kurt Busch-Jimmie Johnson feud

It was a rift that started at Bristol in 2006 when Kurt Busch declared he’d rather lose to anybody beside the No. 48, spiking a water bottle in disgust. The flames were fanned at Sonoma in 2009, when Busch was dumped by Jimmie Johnson. Later that year at Chicagoland, Johnson bounced it off the wall and hit Busch in the closing laps of the race. Things came to a head (on) at Pocono in 2010, when Johnson jacks up Busch while bump-drafting, sending him into a series of vicious and violent impacts. Elliott Sadler got the worst of it, in what was possibly the hardest impact experienced in a Gen 5 or Gen 6 car. (Or ever — it ripped the engine out of the thing and tossed it on the track.) Busch’s interview at 6:45 is classic — and, surprisingly, safe for office viewing!

8. Carl gets cranky

Carl Edwards’ radio exchange with spotter and team owner Jack Roush at Pocono in July 2006. Things had escalated quickly during the race, after Tony Stewart took issue with Clint Bowyer, racing him a little to close — so he just swerves at him. Interesting spin job by Smoke here and I’m pretty sure that’s the guy who uploaded video’s comments, not Wally Dallenbach. As Bill Webber would say, “We apologize for that comment …” 

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7. Jeremy Mayfield is number one!

Dale Earnhardt was famous for rattling cages. However, he was also famous for letting you know who was number one. Check out this last lap battle between Jeremy Mayfield and Earnhardt at Pocono in 2000. Not many were able to see this live as it is was a rain-delayed race run on a Monday afternoon. Sad to see how quickly Mayfield fell in just a few short years — and how it would be less than a year until we lost Earnhardt.

6. Swervin’ Irvan’s Track Blocker

Ever wonder how Ernie Irvan earned the name “Swervin’” Irvan? It was incidents during the 1991 season such as this at Pocono, where he sends Hut Stricklin spinning in front of the field and launches Richard Petty skyward (undoubtedly yelling “Son of a Gun!”). Save the Gen-6 sexiness smack; check out those Thunderbirds, Regals, Grand Prixs and Luminas looking every bit as lifelike as their counterparts today. It didn’t help Irvan’s cause that he took out The King who was having a pretty decent run that weekend. Hey at least you never had to wonder if he was points racing.

5. Kasey Gets Kahne’d

As Kurt Busch says, it’s a free-for-all on the last lap, and this incident on the final lap of the 2010 Pocono 500 was no exception. The action starts at 1:35, when Kasey Kahne gets blocked by teamamte A.J. Allmendinger down to the grass, which, following the showers earlier in the day, was slick as ice. The loss of traction sends him spinning back across the track into the path of Mark Martin and Greg Biffle — and nearly ejects him from the facility. Check out the impact at 3:15 of the No. 5 hitting the No. 9 and how quickly he’s stopped and Ambrose in the No. 47 plowing into the barrier. The CoT may have been bulbous and ungainly, but it was a bacon saver.

4. Ken Schrader’s Crash & Burn

You may notice a common thread with many of these incidents, and it’s an unprotected Turn 1 wall with corner entry speeds in the 200 mph range. There are two things a driver fears most in a race car: a driver’s side, abrupt impact and fire. Ken Schrader experienced both at Pocono in 2003. His post-wreck comments are about what you’d expect from Schrader — deadpan humor with a no-big-deal delivery.

3. Bobby Allison survives

To call it a career-ending crash is not doing it justice. In a wreck that nearly took his life, this crash also cruelly robbed Bobby Allison of his memory — particularly the one of racing his son Davey for a Daytona 500 win a few months earlier. While many loved this era of cars and racing, take a look at Allison’s machine in the garage area. It literally looks like a crumpled up Miller High Life can. Allison suffered a bruised heart, damage to the brain, a broken leg and other internal injuries. "For two solid months I couldn't add two and two," Allison told a Pocono Record reporter a decade after the accident. "I sat and cried, like a two-year-old. The world was really mixed up to me. Early on, I was really mad that they let me live." Four years later, Allison lost son Clifford in an accident and son Davey in 1993. Family friend Neil Bonnet passed at Daytona in 1994. Bobby and wife Judy divorced, but reunited and remarried following the death of Adam Petty in 2000.
No other family in racing has paid such a high price as the Allison’s and “The Alabama Gang.”

2. The Allison-Waltrip rivalry, Gen 2

Those new NASCAR commercials touting rivalries would be well suited to revisit the rift between Darrell Waltrip and Davey Allison from 1991-92. Allsion often got the worst end of it, with broken ribs at Bristol and in this horrific crash at Pocono. How bad was it? Allison’s crew chief, Larry McReynolds, recalled how he was scanning radio traffic to check on his driver’s condition, when he heard Mark Martin say, “They better just get a body bag for Davey.” Check out how close the No. 28 comes to breaching the guardrail and taking out the safety trucks, flinging parts for a quarter mile.

1. Tim Richmond’s comeback win

Tim Richmond missed the first half of the 1987 season while hospitalized with double pneumonia. That was the official diagnosis. What the public didn’t know was that Richmond was a dying man, having contracted the AIDS virus. During a time when little was known about the disease, how it was contracted, and who it affected, it was a situation that could and should have been handled much differently than it was. Back then, some within the sport who knew of his condition viewed him as a pariah. Today, he would be hailed a hero. Video starts as Eli Gold calls the action at the 11:18 mark.