By Keith Waltz
Richard Petty celebrated in victory lane on Aug. 4, 1974, when NASCAR’s premier stock car series visited Pennsylvania’s Pocono Raceway for the first time.
Built as an eastern showplace for American open-wheel racing, the 2.5-mile triangular track was designed with input from two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rodger Ward and features three distinctly different turns that connect three straightaways of various lengths. It opened for business in 1971.
While the 1974 Purolator 500 was the first NASCAR-sanctioned event in the resort area of the Pocono Mountains, it was not the track’s first stock car race. In fact, just a year earlier – on July 29, 1973 – Petty had won the Acme Super Saver 500, a USAC-sanctioned race that featured several NASCAR drivers battling the stars of the Indianapolis-based series.
Petty was also the class of the field in NASCAR’s Pocono premiere. He led 152 of the 192 laps as rain forced officials to end the race 20 miles short of the scheduled distance. The race was also red flagged for 1 hour and 22 minutes when a downpour hit shortly past the halfway mark.
Petty led the final 45 laps before an estimated 40,000 fans and his STP Oil Treatment Dodge was 18.8 seconds ahead of Buddy Baker’s RC Cola Ford at the checkered flag. Cale Yarborough, David Pearson and Benny Parsons rounded out the top five.