By: Zach Sturniolo (Contributing Journalist for ’50 Years of The Tricky Triangle.’) (June 17, 2021)
Dale Jarrett is, of course, a member of one of NASCAR’s signature families.
Like the Frances, Pettys and Earnhardts, the Jarretts have a storied past and tradition through stock-car history.
That connection comes full circle at Pocono Raceway, where Dr. Joe and Rose Mattioli helped turn an investment into a motorsports mammoth with one of the most inviting atmospheres in racing – a culture built upon family.
“That’s the key word is family,” Jarrett said. “They welcome you there. They were the first people that you saw almost every time that you showed up, no matter if that was early morning, late in the evening. They were always close by there and ready to welcome you there and be a part of their family for our race weekend.”
The son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Ned Jarrett and one himself, Dale Jarrett saw the impact of Pocono race weekends on his own family, as the Tricky Triangle became a destination on the Cup Series calendar for his children and wife.
“The Mattioli family was just always so gracious to everyone,” Jarrett recalled. “They made you feel welcome. The fans were just incredible. I think just the whole combination of that was one that made you look forward to coming to Pocono, besides the fact that I enjoyed the challenge of the racetrack itself. It was always wanting to come see friends and what I consider family.”
On the racetrack, Jarrett found plenty of success. He claimed victory at Pocono three times in his career and netted 13 top fives, second-most of any track in Jarrett’s career.
Jarrett still recalls his first laps around the 2.5-mile triangle in 1987 – except those laps didn’t come in a race car. They came in Geoff Bodine’s rental car, driven around the circuit by Geoff and accompanied by Geoff’s brother, Brett Bodine.
“As we went down pit road, he started telling us about Turn 1 and the entry to there, how it’s so easy to overdrive, get yourself out of position where the bumps were at that particular time that you had to avoid,” Jarrett recalled. “But I think one of the things that always stood out to me that he told us was as we were in the middle of Turn 1, he said from this point, what you want to do is there’s a caution light just off of Turn 1 as you start on to the Long Pond Straightaway. And he said, as you get back in the gas, you literally want to point your car and drive straight towards that. which was basically driving straight towards the wall.
“I felt that seemed rather crazy at the time as to why do I want to drive straight towards the wall? But that literally became the thing that I always thought about each and every time and was something until the last race that I ran there that stuck with me.”
The speed of the facility, though, never struck Jarrett until he had the wheel in his hands himself. And with Geoff Bodine to lean on, Jarrett was able to adapt quicker to the enormous track.
“It wasn’t until I got in the car I realized the speed at that time,” he said. “It was just something that you don’t see other than Daytona and Talladega at that time. So it was just amazing. But [Bodine’s] explanation – I think he took us three complete laps around there, which took a little while for him to do. But [he was] answering our questions and making sure that we fully understood the task that was right in front of us.”
Jarrett’s early Pocono starts came with little in terms of strong results. In starts for Eric Freelander, Cale Yarborough, Wood Brothers Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing, Jarrett knew his way around the track but felt his cars didn’t have the horsepower to contend for wins.
That was until he sat behind the wheel of Robert Yates Racing’s cars in 1995. From 1995 through 2002 – a 16-race span – Jarrett collected each of his three wins and 13 top fives.
“Up until ‘95, there were a number of times that I found myself in cars that were under horsepowered,” Jarrett said. “So I was having to figure out ways to make successful days with an under horsepowered car. That required getting a feel for the corners and working on the handling of the car to be able to succeed.
“I think that benefited me by being able to do that first, instead of getting that Robert Yates horsepower to begin with. I had to figure out the feel I was looking for in a car and then transfer that over to a car then as I got to Robert Yates Racing to having a car that had as much if not more horsepower than any other car on the racetrack.”
In fact, Yates’ motors were so much quicker that Jarrett needed to adjust his driving style at Pocono, from braking marks to shifting points.
It was the unique challenge that Pocono Raceway provided Jarrett coupled with its scenic views and homey feel that endeared him to the facility and the Mattiolis. That admiration continues today.
“I think that they showed a lot of track owners and operators around the country basically how to do things the right way,” Jarrett said of the Mattiolis, “and that if you’re doing that and helping to take care of not only the competitors but the race fans. “You saw it and still see it as the fans flock here to Pocono Raceway to want to be a part of that race weekend, from the infield to the fans that camped outside. The stands were always filled and they were excited and knowledgeable. And it was this group at Pocono Raceway that took care of them and made sure that everything was done in the right way.
“I think a lot of people around the country realized a better way of doing things and making people – from the competitors, the owners, the sponsors, to the race fans – feel welcomed each and every time they come. There were a lot of lessons to be learned by the way that things were done and operated, and the Mattiolis are to be commended for I think changing a culture in a lot of ways and creating a culture that everyone wanted to be around and be a part of.”
Jarrett will be part of the NBC Sports broadcast coverage that will air the NASCAR doubleheader weekend from Pocono on June 26-27.
To see more content from our ’50 Years of The Tricky Triangle’ please visit: poconoraceway.com/50