A Look Ahead at the Tricky Triangle

Kelly CrandallSenior Writer IJanuary 22, 2009

Great things have come from mistakes. Ben Franklin didn't discover electricity on the first shot. The Internet with all its tools and networks most likely didn't boot up on the first click.

Every inventor needs to work through all the glitches and mistakes for the greatness to break through. In Eastern Pennsylvania during the 1960s another mistake was made. It was a mistake that caused inventor Dr. Joe Mattioli and his builders to tear down the original Pocono Raceway and start over.

Back to the drawing board Mattioli went and when confident in his work, his mistake eventually led to a masterpiece in the Tricky Triangle at Pocono, which takes three distinctive racetracks and rolls their features into one raceway.

A math major can name every category of triangle: isosceles, obtuse, acute, equilateral, and scalene. Each triangle serves its own purpose and has its own dimensions. In order to be an isosceles triangle it has to have at least two equal sides.

An obtuse triangle will have angles that are greater than 90 degrees, where an acute triangle will have angles that are less than 90 degrees. The equilateral triangle's sides will all be the same length and the scalene trangle's sides will be all different lengths.

A NASCAR major knows of another triangle, one that doesn't fit into any of the previous categories. The Pocono Raceway sits, like the majority of Pennsylvania, in the mountains near the region of Long Pond. Known simply as Pocono, this triangle can't fit on any mathematical diagram, since it is 2.5 miles long and breaks all mathematical rules.

Pocono creates its own category when it comes to how it was designed, and how its dimensions were formed. The dimensions helped nickname it the Tricky Triangle, with each one of its corners and straightaways being completely different, offering up their own set of obstacles for the drivers.

The 3,704-foot front stretch, which is nearly wide enough to land a Boeing 767 airplane on, will catapult cars to 200 mph going into the first turn. Turn one is banked at 14 degrees and was designed to resemble the Trenton Speedway in New Jersey.

It's a wide and bumpy turn that has the ability to scare drivers lap after lap. It scared everyone in 2002 when Steve Park and Dale Earnhardt Jr. tangled and Park's car went rolling end-over-end before landing on its roof. Turn one is known to eat up race cars with its unforgiving walls, and is also one of the rare tracks without a fence around it.

After making it through the treacherous first turn, the car is shot down the 3,000 foot "Long Pond" straightaway, effectively named after the surrounding area. By now, the driver is so far away from the opening stretch that they are almost in a different area code.

At the end of this straightaway the car takes a 90-degree turn through the nine-degree banked "Tunnel Turn." The Tunnel Turn, named for the tunnel underneath it that leads to the inside of the track, resembles Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indiana.

It was this turn that ended Bobby Allison's career in 1988 after suffering injuries when his car didn't make it through the narrow turn and onto the next straightaway.

The short chute, the shortest of the three straightaways at 1,780 feet, leads to turn three banked at six degrees, which resembles the Milwaukee Mile in Wisconsin. Turn three is very flat and sweeping, and when it's hot it will be slick. This makes the wall seem like a magnet since cars are constantly sliding toward it.

A very wide turn, drivers fight to place their cars on the one strip of fresh pavement that will launch their cars back onto the front stretch for another lap around.

But Pocono wasn't always like this. It took 25 years of mistakes and trial and error on the part of Joe Mattioli to make it work. Long years of near-bankruptcy almost forced Mattioli to sell or close the track altogether. Those years of mistakes helped make Pocono what it is today.

"I don't think there's a place like it on earth," said driver Elliott Sadler. "It's just three totally different turns, with three totally bankings. And you have to give up a little here and there to be good in one turn and you have to give up some in another one."

The Pocono Raceway makes Pennsylvania unique. It is a one-of-a-kind race track that will never be duplicated, and it's the only race track on the NASCAR circuit that is shaped like a triangle.

All other tracks are circular and feature the same four corners and high banks. Pocono brings three corners and challenging, slick banks to racing. Cars are designed to go fast and drivers are accustom to going in circles but when they enter the Keystone State,  they must prove themselves all over again.

Drivers enjoy the frustration of battling this unique track and take pride in learning how to master it.

When one thinks about Pennsylvania many things come to mind. People think about Hershey Park, endless chocolate, beautiful scenery ,and the glorious mountains. They think about the never-ending soap opera that is the Philadelphia Eagles, the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies, and the Pittsburgh Steelers returning to the Super Bowl.

But for NASCAR fans there is only one thing they think about, the masterpiece that is the dynamic and exciting Tricky Triangle of the Pocono Raceway.