LONG POND, Pa. — For 37 drivers, Pocono Raceway is just another stop on the NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule. But for one, it’s much, much more.
Seven years ago, Sage Karam, a product of local Nazareth, Pennsylvania, led an IndyCar race at Pocono with 21 laps to go when he crashed and hit the Turn 1 wall.
Justin Wilson, piloting the No. 25 car for Andretti Autosport, passed by in an attempt to avoid the crash. The nose cone from Karam’s car bounced off the track and struck Wilson in the head. Wilson suffered massive brain damage and later died as a result of his injuries.
Karam felt immense guilt and slipped into a deep depression. His racing career nearly halted as he made just three IndyCar starts between 2016 and 2018.
Three years after the crash, Karam made his return to Pocono for the first time, but as a spectator. Six laps into the race, Karam’s friend, Robert Wickens, violently crashed in Turn 2 and became paralyzed from the chest down. The grief returned for Karam.
Now in 2022, Karam is looking to make a new name for himself in NASCAR. In January, Tommy Joe Martins announced Karam would drive part-time for his Alpha Prime Racing team in the Xfinity Series.
One track on Karam’s schedule: Pocono. He knew it would be difficult to race there again, but he felt it was time to return.
“It was like a seven-year journey to get here,” Karam told The Podium Finish. “I’ve had opportunities to race here in the past and I just wasn’t ready to do that. I’m happy that I took that time to do it right.”
The first place Karam wanted to visit upon his return was Turn 1. On Thursday of race week, Karam rode his bike around the track to begin making his peace with Pocono.
“I definitely wanted to do that before I went through there in a race car,” he explained. “It was cool but it was also emotional to just kind of see it out at a slow speed. I had some memories and emotions come back when I was doing that, but it was good for me to get those things during that time rather than being in a race car doing it.
“I think that bike ride really did get a lot of emotion that’s not good to drive with [out]. It eliminated that for me.”
On Saturday, it was finally race day. Karam practiced and qualified the car in the morning and felt “at home.” As the race neared later in the afternoon, Karam prepared for one of the hardest things he may ever do.
Karam didn’t just want to perform well for himself. He wanted to finish well for his friends, family and sponsors who have supported him through his unthinkable journey.
“Anybody who has helped me along the journey in seven years is here today,” Karam said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself for the race. I wanted to finish it and keep the car clean and just do the best job that I could… I just wanted to make everyone proud.”
So proud of this guy for the way he handled himself all weekend and the performance he gave our team today. Thanks @SageKaram https://t.co/BtLFAhTb8p
— Tommy Joe Martins (@TommyJoeMartins) July 24, 2022
Karam finished 20th in his return to Pocono, and overall, he’s satisfied. He kept the car clean, just like he wanted, and had a blast doing so.
“That was one of the most fun times I’ve had driving a race car,” Karam said. “This place is really, really fun in these cars. I had a lot more fun in these cars than I did even with the IndyCars and the IndyCars here was really cool. With these cars, you’re braking in every corner and through the tunnel turn, there’s a couple of bumps really reacting and you’ve got to be really on top of it.
“It’s definitely a good stepping stone for me in this whole learning process of trying to make this transition over to stock cars.”
More importantly, Karam feels tremendous relief and a weight lifted off his shoulders. Seven years of guilt and grief have been relieved, although the pain of the accident may never fully go away.
Karam is ready to turn the page.
“The peace has been made here,” Karam said with a small grin. “I’m excited to maybe get an opportunity to race here again in the future. It’ll be one that I will be circling with joy on the calendar to come back to.”
Pocono feels like home once again for Sage Karam.