- Bakary Soumaré Traded to FirePosted 18 hours ago
- Michael Phelps Not planning a comeback for the 2016 summer gamesPosted 4 days ago
- Late Magic Wins Series for the PhilliesPosted 4 days ago
- Phillies Week 7 In ReviewPosted 4 days ago
- Union Tough Out Second Straight Win Against FirePosted 6 days ago
- Match Preview: Philadelphia Union vs. Chicago Fire, IIPosted 7 days ago
- Donovan, Galaxy Embarrass Union 4-1Posted 8 days ago
- BREAKING: Union Trade Gabriel Farfan to Chivas USAPosted 10 days ago
- McNabb to Retire as an EaglePosted 10 days ago
- Phillies Week 6 in ReviewPosted 12 days ago
Pennsylvania 400 Marred By Fan’s Death!
- Updated: August 6, 2012
(Long Pond, PA) When I arrived at Pocono Raceway on Sunday, August 5 at about 11 a.m., there was a cool 73 degree breeze under mostly cloudy skies. Those cloudy skies however, continually looked ominous though 1:30 p.m.
I recall mentioning to the buddy I traveled, “this could be a shortened race. Reports are there could be some strong thunderstorms between one and three this afternoon.”
For southeastern Pennsylvania NASCAR fans, the two races each per season at both the “Monster Mile” at the Dover International Speedway, and the 2½ mile “Tricky Triangle” at Pocono Raceway provides an easy, commutable experience for their favorite motor sport. So, it’s not unusual to see a well-represented contingent of Phillies and Eagles caps at both tracks. On Sunday at Pocono Raceway those hats got very, very wet . . . not once, but twice, and worse . . . unfortunately one dead and nine others injured from two lightning strikes.
Add to the fact that with only six regular season races left before the beginning of “the Chase,” it is estimated that the crowd at Pocono Raceway was in excess of 85,000. For NASCAR fans, the final six races are tantamount to the final two games of the NFL season with teams “on the bubble” to the playoffs. Drivers like Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch are not yet a lock for NASCAR’s equivalent of their 10-race playoffs.
We entered the racetrack grounds at about 12:15 – about an hour prior to the start of the race – with dark clouds moving quickly from the northwest over our heads. Fifteen minutes later, with lightning bolts flying all around, and a monsoon-like downpour we found ourselves running for cover with about 150 other fans jammed into a metal encased garage-type entrance to the immediate track area. (In hindsight, this was not the greatest place to be during a powerful thunderstorm but, there were no other options.) Most certainly the 1:15 start would be delayed.
We emerged from the metal cavern 30 minutes later to clearing skies; humid air warmed by the peeking sun; and the sound of ten track jet-dryers working over one of NASCAR’s largest tracks. The race would get underway and, with credit to the folks at Pocono Raceway they announced that driver introductions would take place at 2:45 p.m.
By the time the race began at just about 3 p.m., the “Tricky Triangle” was bathed in warm, humid, clear sunshine. Everyone was thrilled to see the start but, you couldn’t avoid the chatter and rumors among fans that “they just need to get to 81 laps to make this official” as everyone knew that there was more to come.
Juan Pablo Montoya had the pole and he controlled the lead for a good 10-12 laps flying around the tri-oval track at alarming speed considering the fact it had just been dried from a heavy rain. Denny Hamlin temporarily took over the lead for a lap or two before the grandstand stood to cheer fan favorite, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. take the lead for the majority of the next 25-30+ laps. (Ultimately, Earnhardt would end up in the garage for transmission problems only to return many laps behind the pack.)
As we neared lap 80 (the mid-point of the race), I told my friend I needed to take a walk and get out of the sun for a few minutes. Before, I left however, I mentioned to him to check the weather as blue-gray clouds were accumulating on the northwestern hemisphere.18 laps later, Jeff Gordon won his first race of the season under a strict weather caution from NASCAR officials who called the race complete while Pocono Raceway management issued warnings over the loudspeakers to fans to seek coverage and refuge as lightning, heavy winds and torrential rains were pending.
At just after 5 p.m. hundreds and hundreds of fans were very quickly flocking from the racetrack region. For me, the (maybe) ¼ mile trek from the grandstand to the location of the car (which was a challenge itself to trace) was a bit unnerving as black (not gray) skies enveloped the area and approaching lightning and thunder loomed all around an open-field parking area.
We secured ourselves in the car, completely soaked but sheltered and, began to maneuver the vehicle over rivers that were formerly the field parking in a direct line of traffic facing the track. Ten minutes later, sitting in traffic that was moving nowhere, one of the biggest, closest bolts of lightning I’ve ever seen came straight down across our windshield in the distance of the racetrack.
We later learned that 41 year-old Brian Zimmerman, a Moosic, PA father was killed by a lightning strike and two others in his general vicinity were injured. While reports are inconclusive, it is believed the man was either near or in his car in the parking area near Gate 3 of the track. The Monroe County Coroner Bob Allen indicated that the victim was in cardiac arrest at the scene and efforts to revive him by EMT’s were unsuccessful.
Allegedly seven others were injured, one critically, when a separate strike hit just outside the grandstand (probably the one I saw).
NASCAR and Pocono Raceway management have been questioned today in the aftermath of this tragedy. Many have asked whether the race should have been “called” earlier. Reservations were expressed regarding Pocono Raceway’s Emergency Management plans. Others have stated that, so long as the cars are running around the track, fans are going to stay regardless of conditions.
Pocono Raceway management has indicated that they posted warning messages on both Twitter and Facebook. I will report however, as the owner of an AT&T serviced latest-and-greatest HTC-1 phone, I had no network service outside or inside the racetrack area at any time during the day. My friend, using a Spring-serviced devise, did.
NASCAR was scheduled to release a statement about the situation today at 12:45 p.m. To this minute, I have yet to reach anyone at NASCAR or locate that statement. When it becomes available, we will bring it to you as a follow-up.
However, Pocono Raceway management has issued a statement on their web site stating details of the post-race events.
“The safety of all guests to Pocono Raceway is of the utmost importance to our entire staff. This tragic event is at the forefront of all of our thoughts and prayers. We will learn from the incident and continue to implement strategies to help ensure the safety of fans and all attendees at future events at Pocono Raceway.”