As a long-time sports fan, I have many favorite sports memories, from Buffalo Bandits lacrosse championships to Sabres playoff hockey. But as a NASCAR fan, my favorite memory was my first-ever Sprint Cup race weekend at Pocono (Pennsylvania) Raceway.
Over the years, I’d heard many negative things about Pocono, from the race being too long to the track being too large to see anything. From my standpoint, the good at Pocono outweighs the bad. My first family trip to Pocono was in July 2002, and it started with a trip to the pits on Friday – being that close to the cars and the stars was amazing to me. Pocono allows pit-pass/paddock ticket holders into a modified garage area (you watch from behind a fence) and out into the “pit stall” area of pit road to watch practice and qualifying. I was in awe of the speedway and the cars, and could hardly take it all in. Day one came to a fitting end when our family favorite driver, Bill Elliott, captured the pole in the #9 Dodge.
Day two took us to the pits again, watching practice sessions on pit road and crews working on their cars in the garage area. Once in a while my father and I timed things out just right and saw some of the drivers – veterans like Elliott and Rusty Wallace among them – in their garage stalls. The first race of the weekend came Saturday afternoon when the ARCA Re/MAX Series ran their race. Seeing cars on the track for practice is one thing – seeing a full field on this massive 2.5-mile tri-oval track is something entirely different.
Day three was race day Sunday. One thing we learned for subsequent trips to Pocono (we’ve been back every year since) – arrive early, or prepare for a LONG wait in traffic. Pocono fans know how to tailgate – tents, grills, games, flags, and lawn chairs were scattered throughout the parking areas, and everyone was good-natured, even if you did “like the wrong guy.” Then came the race: the anthem, the flyover, the command to start engines – I couldn’t believe I was really at a NASCAR race! There was a typical Pocono rain delay, and another delay for an early wreck involving Steve Park and a guardrail. But it was all worth it in the end – Elliott came across the finish line first, and a family fun weekend ended with the family favorite in Victory Lane.