Jeff Gordon won his first race of the 2012 season and the 86th of his career on Sunday at Pocono Raceway. However, his soggy victory was marred by tragedy. The victory celebration was interrupted by the news that a lightning strike had killed one race fan, and injured 9 others in two different areas – according to Pocono Raceway in a statement released today.
According to the statement, the fan killed was identified as Brian F. Zimmerman of Moosic, Pa. Zimmerman, a father of two, went into cardiac arrest at the scene. Efforts to revive him by emergency responders and doctors at the track were unsuccessful. Zimmerman was pronounced dead at 6:11 p.m. ET Sunday evening, according to Monroe County Coroner Bob Allen.
Harry Lewis, chief of the Pocono Mountain Regional Police, reported the fans were at their Dodge Caravan in the parking lot and had a pop-up canopy located behind the vehicle. It wasn’t clear whether the fans were touching the canopy when the lightning hit.
At approximately 6:35 p.m., the control tower was notified of a second possible lightning strike in the vicinity near Gate 3. That person was taken to the Pocono Raceway’s Infield Medical Center where they were initially treated for minor injuries before being transported to Pocono Medical Center in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania for further evaluation.
A severe storm warning was issued for the region surrounding the track at 4:12 p.m. At 4:21 p.m., the track issued warnings on its Twitter and Facebook accounts: “ATTENTION FANS: Severe thunderstorms are in the area which will produce high winds and lightning. Should arrive in 10-15 mins.” (See actual tweets below).
At 4:38 p.m., cars were still on the track. NASCAR parked the cars on Lap 98, after they ran seven laps under caution as rain moved into the area. When what started as a light rain became a torrent, NASCAR called the race. The race was called around 4:50 p.m.
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Track spokesman Bob Pleban said an announcement was made on the track’s public address system immediately after the race advising fans to leave the grandstands because lightning was imminent.Some race fans tweeted it was hard to hear the announcements as the cars were coming down pit road in the pouring rain.
The questions raised here are: Did NASCAR wait too long to pull the cars off track when a severe thunderstorm warning had been issued for the area and was imminent? Did Pocono Raceway & NASCAR take the correct precautions for fan, NASCAR/Media crew safety to evacuate, seek shelter in time?
If one has ever been to a race, you will know that race fans DO NOT sit in the stands scrolling through their Twitter accounts during a race. And god willing if Facebook should ever load on a mobile phone while sitting in the stands or down in the pits….yet alone, pick up a strong enough signal to even upload a simple picture. Everyone practically knows that, that would NOT be happening with any cell phone. The use of social media in this case, I believe, was the wrong way to notify the fans. Maybe a scrolling message on the Sprint Vision screens that everyone can see. As for the announcement over the public announcement system – how many race fans have headphones on listening to the scanner or MRN radio during a race? I also know for a fact that even at Daytona International Speedway, you can not hear a word on the PA system. It is directed to the fans in the grandstands, not the FanZone which is located above the garage area.
I live in the lightning capital of the world – in Orlando, FL. One thing you never fool around with is Mother Nature. Cloud to ground lighting can happen even outside of a thunder head cloud. Once you hear thunder, you must take precautionary measures by seeking shelter immediately because you can get struck! As with the theme parks, water parks and beaches in Florida – they monitor the storms and evacuate when storms are 15 minutes out and shut/close/evacuate the surrounding area(s). Yes, it may be an inconvenience to some – those who don’t have a clue – but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Maybe, just maybe, NASCAR should have pulled the cars from the track sooner than they did. They had put the crews at risk as well.
As with anything bad, something good comes out of it. I see maybe tougher weather warnings/rules being applied at all NASCAR sanctioned tracks in light of this tragedy and more lives can maybe saved in the future.
But one must realize it is in their OWN hands to act like an adult and be responsible during certain situations also.
As of the time of this posting, NASCAR has not released a statement about the incident at Pocono Raceway.