Nerve-Wracking Crashes That Changed NASCAR Forever: Edition 2: The Tricky Triangle Pocono

Published 12/11/2023, 5:37 AM EST

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USA Today via Reuters

In NASCAR, every race track has a different challenge. Some have tricky pit stops like Las Vegas, while others could have a low traction surface; each race track has a specialty. However, only a few match up to the Pocono Raceway when it comes to being one of the toughest race tracks to drive a car. The Tricky Triangle has seen various drivers suffer violent crashes throughout the year, and although NASCAR has implemented some changes, the risk factor is still fully present.

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Chaos is a common theme for the races that are held at Pocono. The track’s triangular shape and narrow, confusing turns are often too difficult for the drivers to handle. Drivers have complained about it to NASCAR for a long time, and we have seen some changes being made, but it has continued to be a regular feature on the NASCAR schedule since 1974, and so have the crashes.

Richard Petty’s near-death experience at Pocono in 1980

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Richard Petty had a glorious career. The seven-time Cup champion was phenomenal on the track and is one of the finest handlers of the car in NASCAR history. However, he has had his fair share of crashes as well.

In the 1980 Winston Cup race at Pocono, the King failed to get control of the car after bursting his right front tire in a collision with the outside wall. The crash was pretty hard, as the right side of the vehicle suffered extensive damage after hitting the wall. As the chaos ensued, Darrell Waltrip‘s car arrived at the scene and bumped Petty’s car on the driver’s side.

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Petty had to wear a neck brace in the following days and confessed that the crash was among some of the worst wrecks of his career, which tells us a lot about the magnitude of the crash. However, that didn’t stop him from racing at Talladega’s next race either. It wasn’t just Petty who faced fortune’s wrath at Pocono; some of his rivals did, too.

In 1988, Petty’s formidable opponent, Bobby Allison, was involved in a T-bone crash with Jocko Maggiacomo. Allison collided head-on with the wall, and a speeding Maggiacomo couldn’t hit the brakes instantly as he hit Allison’s car on the driver’s side. While Bobby survived the crash, he came out with a wound on his head amid multiple injuries. The crash forced him to retire from racing earlier than expected, and he even lost some of his memories.

Darrell Waltrip has been involved in multiple crashes at Pocono. In 1992, Waltrip and Bobby’s brother, Davey Allison, were engrossed in a neck-to-neck battle when Waltrip nudged Davey’s rear. Davey’s car flipped violently after contact with the inside guard rail. While Allison should have taken caution and stayed out of the next race, like Petty, he decided to show up to Talladega the following week.

The crashes that forced NASCAR to improve track safety at Pocono

Like the Allison family, the Earnhardt family has also experienced the worst side of the Pocono Raceway. In 1982, Dale Earnhardt flipped his car multiple times after a collision with Tim Richmond. Dale Sr was seen sitting by the safety wall after being helped out of his wrecked car by Richmond, who also helped him cross the track. The accident gave Earnhardt a broken kneecap and again highlighted the track’s relentless nature.

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In 2002, the roles were reversed; this time, it was Dale Earnhardt Jr in the car. Dale Jr and Steve Park were teammates at Dale Earnhardt Inc. at the time of the crash when Park’s car went into the grass and hit the wall after spinning multiple times. Junior rushed to his teammate and helped him to get out of the car in a great show of sportsmanship.

In 2010, Kasey Kahne could have fallen outside the track had his crash been any worse. Kahne lost control of his car, and with grass being the culprit again, the car went into the air and straight towards the trees by the trackside. This crash forced NASCAR to look into the safety of drivers and reduce the risk at Pocono by a considerable margin. Following the incident, Pocono added more SAFER barriers to the race track and a catch fence. The SAFER barriers combine steel and foam, allowing them to absorb the damage from cars.

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These barriers were put up by the inside wall at the Long Pond stretch and in the middle of the first and second turns. More changes were made to the track, and as of 2017, Pocono had about 4.48 miles of SAFER barrier walls with a lengthened pit wall and upgraded track crossover gates.

In recent years, Kurt Busch has also faced the repercussions of a crash at Pocono and was forced to retire early after recurring concussions ruined his racing career. The Tricky Triangle has been a quintessential part of NASCAR, but these crashes have made it much safer over the years.

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Written by:

Ansuman Abhisek

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I instantly fell in love with the sport as I witnessed the cars' breakneck speeds and the robust nature of the sport and its drivers. As I had a deep-rooted interest in automobiles, the sport naturally piqued my interest in a jiffy. Kyle Busch and his cutthroat style of racing played an important role in getting me hooked to stock car racing as I hopped on streams to watch him win races.
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Edited by:

Shivali Nathta

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