Pocono Win Fuels Steele's Return It Was The Arca Driver's First Race Since A Crash At Atlanta In November. He Led 75 Of The 100 Laps.

Posted: June 21, 1998

LONG POND, Pa. — The main event was still a day away, yet scores of fans packed the main grandstand of Pocono International Raceway yesterday, most hoping for little more than a glimpse of their favorite NASCAR drivers taking a practice spin around the track.

They were treated to so much more.

On the type of spring afternoon this mountain resort area's chamber of commerce would like to bottle, Tim Steele won a race that will live on in the annals of the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA).

Steele, seeing his first racing action since a debilitating crash during testing last November in Atlanta, won the Mountain Dew 400k in dominant fashion. Starting second, he overtook pole-sitter Mike Ciochetti Jr. on the first lap of the Bondo/Mar-Hyde Series stock-car race and went on to lead 75 of the 100 laps - including the final 28.

It was Steele's sixth career win at Pocono and fourth consecutive victory on the 2.5-mile super speedway.

But the real accomplishment came much earlier for the 30-year-old from Coopersville, Mich. - who wasn't given medical clearance to drive until his final checkup Tuesday. He came out of the Atlanta accident with post-concussion syndrome, badly blurred vision and a four-month void in which he has few memories.

``To be able to get in the car and see just one of everything is pretty good,'' said Steele, who laughed following a tear-filled visit to the winner's circle.

``I can't express how good this feels. Back in March, the doctors told me I'd feel better in a year. I went through six doctors before I found one who didn't recommend I get a new career.''

In the week leading up to his comeback, Steele argued with his father, Harold - who owns the Ford Thunderbirds Tim drives - over the decision to get back behind the wheel.

``Monday night my dad came by - my second cousin had passed away, killed in a car accident,'' Steele said. ``My dad said `I've been to one funeral and I'm not going to another one - we're not going racing.'

``But this means the world to me. I was almost to the point [after arguing with his father] that I'd steal everything from the shop to go racing.''

``My dad asked me why come back, especially at Pocono, and such a fast track. I just love Pocono and I love racing here.'' Bobby Gerhart of Lebanon, Pa., fared the best of a group of area drivers, finishing 17th. Rick Skinner of Philadelphia was 18th, Michael Zazula of Turnersville, N.J., came in 23d, and Andy Belmont of Penndel placed 27th.

* The final 18 spots of the 43-car field for today's Pocono 500 Winston Cup race were filled yesterday morning.

With three drivers electing to stand on speeds they posted in Friday's first round, few of the 17 cars that took the track for the second round of qualifying improved on their positions.

An exception was Jeff Green, whose No. 46 First Union Chevrolet locked in the 26th starting spot with a run of 166.463 m.p.h. - the 10th-fastest lap of the weekend. Green backed it up by averaging the 20th quickest time in yesterday afternoon's Happy Hour practice.

Johnny Benson, one of seven drivers who needed a provisional to make the field, will start 37th.

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