Elliot Sadler knows, perhaps better than most, that racing at the top professional level is a tough business. His family started racing around the short tracks of his native Virginia before he was born. He grew up in the sport watching his dad, uncle, and older brothers until, eventually, it was his turn.
He started racing go karts when he was eight years old, progressed to the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series at South Boston Speedway, and was crowned the track champion in 1995. Racing there he caught the eye of car owner Gary Bechtel who put Sadler in his Nationwide Series car for the 1997 season.
The rookie put the car on the pole for the season opening race at Daytona and a mere 13 starts later, Sadler was in victory lane at Nazareth Speedway in Pennsylvania. He finished out the year with wins Myrtle Beach Speedway and Gateway International Raceway and was fifth in series points.
In 1999 the legendary Virginia team of the Wood Brothers selected Elliott to drive their famous number 21 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series and in 2001 they got their first victory on the tough half mile at Bristol, TN. Two more Cup victories in 2004 driving for Robert Yates Racing came at Texas Motor Speedway and California Speedway (Now Auto Club Speedway).
Since that last win in 2004 Elliot has seen teams merge and teammates come and go and there has been times when he has had good cars, and other times not so good. To date he has 414 starts in NASCAR?s top series and he has won poles and had good finishes, but has not returned to victory lane.
And that?s why Saturday?s victory in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Pocono Raceway was so special and so emotional for Elliott Sadler. Kevin Harvick has used Sadler in four previous truck races this season and in half of those starts Sadler brought the truck home in the top ten.
For Pocono, Sadler started from the pole, led 31 of the 55 laps, and won the race. But so you don?t think it was easy, he had to beat his Sprint Cup teammate Kasey Kahne driving for Kyle Busch, and the rest of the field of truck series veterans like former champ and the series? leading race winner, Ron Hornaday. And other former champs like Mike Skinner and Todd Bodine.
I started this column by saying that Sadler knows how tough the racing business can be and no where has that been demonstrated better that at Pocono Raceway this weekend. After the high of his truck win on Saturday came the low of crashing out of the Cup race on Sunday. And crashing very hard, harder than he had ever crashed before.
"It knocked the breath out of me pretty good, but it's definitely the hardest hit I've ever had in a race car," he said. "These new cars are built to be safer and if I can get out of that and walk [away from] that, I think it did its job."
The impact was so hard that engine was torn from its mounts and left lying beside the track in a smoking heap. It was something out of a ?B? grade racing movie. Fortunately, except for some rib soreness from his belts, Sadler emerged from the infield care center without any injuries.
There?s no question that the design of NASCAR?s new car and the HANS device that all drivers must now use are what saved Sadler from serious injuries. Now we have to look at why the wall Sadler hit was there and what Pocono Speedway will do about it.
Earlier in the week track management was showing off there new solar energy ?farm? where they have installed acres of solar panels to provide electricity for, not only the track itself, but also some of the surrounding community.
Perhaps that money would have been better spent to upgrade some of the safety aspects of the race track itself?
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