By: Zach Sturniolo (Contributing Journalist for ’50 Years of The Tricky Triangle.’) (December 27, 2021)
As Pocono Raceway celebrates 50 years of the Tricky Triangle, it’s time to look back through the decades that have made this facility so special for so long.
To do that, there’s no better place to start than the 1960s and ’70s when Pocono Raceway first transformed from a spinach farm into the mammoth, 2.5-mile, 1,000+-acre venue fit for hosting the legends of American motorsports and serving as a critical entertainment venue from its start.
The story of the Mattiolis’ involvement with Pocono begins in the middle of the 1960s, when Dr. Joseph Mattioli and his wife, Dr. Rose Mattioli, invested into a project to build a racing facility in northeastern Pennsylvania while both were practicing medicine in Philadelphia. But when the lead developers’ plans fell through, Doc did what he did best: took charge.
He and Rose founded Pocono Raceway in 1968, opening with a ¾-mile oval three years before the triangle came to fruition. The short, paved oval stayed and became a fixture, but deciding upon the 2.5-mile triangle layout was a long process.
Eventually, famed track designer Roger Ward and motorsports legend Mario Andretti helped lead the way in shaping the now famous layout of Pocono Raceway.
“They didn’t know whether it was going to be a triangle, a rectangle,” Andretti recalled. “And then, at the end, we all decided that we’re going to make it three different corners: one banked, one sort of like the kink flat out – the tunnel turn – and then a nice wide radius [in] turn three.”
Thus, the Tricky Triangle was born, open for its first race on July 3, 1971. The event was a 500-mile contest for the USAC Champ Car series and featured motor racing’s finest stars — Andretti, AJ Foyt, Mark Donohue, Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough. By the end of the inaugural 200-lap race, Donohue found himself in victory lane, giving team owner Roger Penske the first victory of his now-storied career some 50 years later.
The 1970s were full of firsts for Pocono Raceway, a decade which of course featured the first stock-car race around the 2.5-mile layout as well. USAC first brought stock cars to Pocono in September 1971, another 200-lap event this time won by Butch Hartman over Foyt. Other notables in that race were LeeRoy Yarbrough, Bobby Unser, Al Unser and Geoffrey Bodine.
And while Pocono hosted NASCAR Cup Series doubleheaders in both 2020 and 2021, the Tricky Triangle already had experience hosting marquee events in consecutive days as early as 1972.
The rain dropped by Hurricane Agnes postponed the second annual USAC open-wheel race from July 2 to July 29, leading to a Saturday-Sunday display with 1,000 miles of racing. Open-wheel cars ran Saturday ahead of the 500-mile stock-car race that featured Richard Petty’s Pocono debut on July 30. Roger McCluskey was victorious that day over Hartman, Verlin Eaker, Dave Marcis and Cecil Gordon. Petty led 13 laps that afternoon but was sent to the garage prematurely after suffering a mechanical failure.
Known as The King for a reason, Petty was undeterred and returned to the track in 1973 to claim a rare USAC victory after leading 124 of the race’s 200 laps.
Petty wouldn’t have to dip into USAC to get any more track time at Pocono Raceway after 1973. The NASCAR Cup Series made its maiden trip to northeastern Pennsylvania in 1974 for the Purolator 500. Unsurprisingly, Petty was the winner yet again that year, but he also knew how important that market was for the slowly blossoming Southern sport.
“It was a deal where NASCAR really needed that territory,” Petty said. “When you looked at the map and where we were running races, that was virgin territory. We didn’t run around New York City or New Jersey or that part of Pennsylvania. That was an opportunity to take NASCAR into new spectators.”
And while racing was unquestionably the track’s main attraction, that wasn’t the venue’s only use.
Concert 10 was an enormous rock festival held on the raceway’s grounds on July 8, 1972 that drew 200,000 people to the Pocono Mountains. Among the performers that day – which carried into the morning of July 9 thanks to inclement weather – were Mother Night, Edgar Winter, Faces with Rod Stewart, The J. Geils Band and Three Dog Night. Also set to perform were Black Sabbath and Badfinger, but both acts canceled. According to the New York Times, Concert 10 rivaled the atmosphere of 1969’s famed Woodstock Music and Art Fair from start to finish.
The following summer brought the Pocono State Fair to Long Pond, which featured a who’s-who list of acts from July 20-29, 1973. Comedy legend Bob Hope performed on the opening night of the fair ahead of shows from the Jackson 5, Sammy Davis Jr. and Buck Owens. That legendary lineup was capped on July 29 by the Acme 500, the USAC stock car race won by Petty,
These were just the start of landmark moments in Pocono Raceway’s history. The next decades brought highlights no one could have predicted when the 2.5-mile facility opened its doors in 1971.
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