On This Date: UNICO Game was one-sided in 1999 as West was dominant from the start – Wilkes Barre Times-Leader

Posted By on June 22, 2020

June 20, 2020

Pocono Raceway is about to make history next weekend by holding NASCAR Cup Series races on consecutive days. The track, though, is rich with history since its first Cup race in 1974.

Plenty has happened over those years. Millions have witnessed those events live and on televisions. But TV will be the only way to witness history next Saturday and Sunday. The COVID-19 pandemic means once again the drivers will be racing past an empty infield and grandstands.

So what races were the most memorable Cup races at Pocono? Well, thats open for debate, but here are a few that should be atop any race fans list.

BEST MAN AT FIRST RACE

Richard Petty was the best man at the inaugural Cup Series race at Pocono on Aug. 4, 1974, in more ways than one.

The Purolater 500 wasnt only the first Cup Series race at Pocono, but reportedly the first north of the Mason-Dixon Line. And what was a harbinger to future races at the track, it was interrupted and eventually ended 20 miles short due to rain.

The inclement weather probably didnt factor into Pettys victory. He was dominant throughout and led 150 of 192 laps. Cale Yarborough, Buddy Baker and David Pearson put pressure on Petty, but couldnt prevent the 35-year-old from winning his 161st race. They were the only drivers to finish on the lead lap.

Rain stopped the race on lap 126, with Petty leading 106 of them. When it resumed an hour and 22 minutes later, Petty continued as the leader. He made $15,000.

Petty also had another job on race day. He served as the best man at a wedding for the president of his fan club.

The race lasted a little over four hours and the field consisted of 35 drivers. Attendance was estimated at 50,000. Pocono didnt hold a second Cup race during a season until 1982.

LAST RACE FOR A LEGEND

Bobby Allisons career came to an abrupt end on the opening lap of the Miller High Life 500 on June 19, 1988.

Allison began in the Cup Series in 1961. His 84 career wins rank him tied for fourth with Darrell Waltrip for the most in Cup history.

Then came the Miller High Life 500. Allison qualified 28th, but ran into trouble on the opening lap as he had a tire going down. He spun in the second turn and was hit on the drivers side door by journeyman driver Jocko Maggiacomo.

Allison was knocked unconscious and it took rescue workers 30 minutes to extract him from his Buick. He was flown by helicopter to the regional trauma center at Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown.

According to the Associated Press, Allison was unconscious for six hours and suffered a concussion, broken left leg, blunt abdominal trauma and possibly internal bleeding. He was listed in critical condition and later underwent neurosurgery to relieve swelling in his brain.

Allison admitted his had little memory of the crash and he continue to have memory issues years later.

The 1988 race, I dont remember it, Allison said during an appearance at the Woodlands Inn and Resort in 1998. I have almost no racing memories of that year. All the other stuff is coming back pretty good.

Only those who witnessed the crash saw it in its entirety. There is no complete video footage of the accident.

TRIUMPH FOLLOWED BY TRAGEDY

Alan Kulwicki interrupted his post-race press conference after winning the Champion Spark Plug 500 on June 14, 1992. He began reading from a newspaper.

Im looking at an article here, and I dont know what paper this is, but he picked us as at 500-to-1, Kulwicki said.

He knew who wrote it, looked at the reporter and smiled.

I hope you put some money on me, Kulwicki said. Youll be a rich man.

Kulwicki battled Bill Elliott in the waning laps, overtaking him with 20 laps to go only to surrender the lead with 14 laps remaining. But he managed to regain the lead with 11 laps left for his fifth Cup Series win of his career. He led 58 of 200 laps, most by any driver.

Kulwicki would go on to win the Cup Series championship by 10 points over Elliott, but would never win another race. He was enjoying a solid season in 1993 through four races when tragedy struck.

On April 1, Kulwicki was on a plane returning from a sponsorship appearance at Hooters in Knoxville, Tenn. He was going to race at Bristol three days later.

The plane, which was owned by Hooters, crashed about five miles from Tri-Cities Regional Airport as it was approaching for a landing. Kulwicki was killed along with the pilot and two Hooters executives.

Rusty Wallace won the race on Sunday and honored Kulwicki with a Polish Victory Lap by circling the track in the opposite direction.

WILDEST OF RIDES

There have been some spectacular accidents at Pocono Raceway, but Davey Allisons in 1992 is arguably the most memorable.

Allison was dominating the season entering the Miller Genuine Draft 500 on July 19. He had four wins in 12 races and was second in the drivers standings. He continued that dominance at Pocono, winning the pole and leading 115 of 139 laps when a caution came out.

A slow pit stop relegated Allison to seventh on the restart. He picked his way to fourth on lap 150 when a tap from Darrell Waltrip between turns two and three send him on a wild ride.

Allison car lifted on its nose, then barrel rolled 10 times through the grass infield before coming to rest on its roof. He was airlifted to Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown the same place his dad, Bobby, was flown to after a career-ending wreck four years earlier. He suffered a concussion and a broken right foreman, wrist and collarbone.

Waltrip won the race, but not the affection of the fans. Bobby Allison, who had a bit of a feud with Waltrip, hinted strongly that the crash was intentional. Waltrip denied it.

Allison left the hospital determined to race the next week at Talladega. And with a sense of humor when it arrived at the Alabama track.

The last thing I remember prior to climbing out of the car was seeing Kyle Petty upside down and thinking one of us is not going in the right direction, Allison said. And it was me.

Allison started the race at Talladega and the following event at Watkins Glen in order to get drivers points, but was replaced by a relief driver both times. His gloved were fitted with Velcro as were the steering wheel and shifter to allow him to have a better grip.

ONE WINNER BUT TWO

Kyle Petty won the Champion Spark Plug 500 on June 13, 1993, but the other winner was Chad Blaine Kohl.

Kohl wasnt a driver but a 25-year-old fan from Ephrata who decided to climb a fence in the infield camping area and run across the track as Petty roared into turn one with Davey Allison in pursuit on lap 176.

I saw him in the middle of the race track and I thought he had stopped there, Petty said. I let off as we came into the corner and went to my left and motioned in my rear-view mirror for (Allison) to go left to give the guy some room to go across the wall.

When we got there his feet was sticking out over the wall. Half of him was on the race track and half of him was off.

Kohls troubles didnt end there. He couldnt figure out how to navigate out of the wooded area and lit a fire. The state police directed him out using a helicopter and then slapped him with six charges, including two felonies.

Kohl was arraigned two days later and admitted he didnt know why he ran across the track. In his statement, he said hed been drinking since 3 a.m. and had taken caffeine pills to stay awake.

I wouldnt want to be that close in a road car running 55 much less than a race car running 150 or 160, Petty said.

A video of the daring dash is available on YouTube.

RATTLING THE CAGE

The wait was well worth it on Aug. 4, 2000.

The Pocono 500 was rained out a day earlier, so the stands werent as lively on Monday. But the last-lap duel between Dale Earnhardt and Jeremy Mayfield was.

Earnhardt had a lead of about three car lengths through the first and tunnel turns. Mayfield, though, made up significant ground in the straightaway entering the third turn. As the drivers approached turn three, Mayfield nudged Earnhardt aside and went on to win.

Earnhardt lost two more positions, but on the cool-down laps raced past several drivers to pull alongside Mayfield. He extended his left arm and made an obscene gesture to Mayfield.

I told him hes number one, Earnhardt said in the garage area, extending his index finger although his smug demeanor indicated the reenactment was one finger off.

Mayfield said he didnt want to spin Earnhardt, but wanted to intimidate the Intimidator.

I never intentionally tried wreck him or nothing, Mayfield said. We just wanted to rattle his cage a little bit and that was it.

Earnhardt was a little more humble a sort time later.

I got beat, Earnhardt said. I got in the corner and got shoved a little bit and got beat.

The victory was the third for Mayfield, who would go on to win two more races before being suspended indefinitely in 2009 for testing positive for methamphetamine.

Excerpt from:
On This Date: UNICO Game was one-sided in 1999 as West was dominant from the start - Wilkes Barre Times-Leader

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