NASCAR fans at Pocono Raceway were advised over public address systems and through social media to take cover when lightning and heavy rain hit the track near the end of the race. The warnings weren’t enough to avoid tragedy at the track on Sunday, August 5.
Lightning strikes at Pocono after a rain-shortened NASCAR race killed one fan and injured nine others, one critically, racetrack officials said.
The Monroe County coroner said Monday that Brian Zimmerman, of Moosic, Pa., died as he stood near his car in the parking lot.
Multiple lightning strikes occurred behind the racetrack’s grandstands and outside one of the gates as fans were leaving, Pocono spokesman Bob Pleban said. It wasn’t immediately clear how many of the fans were actually struck by the lightning itself or were injured by related jolts.
“Unfortunately, a member of our raceway family here, a fan, has passed away,” Pocono President Brandon Igdalsky said in announcing the death. He provided no details about the victim but expressed condolences to his family.
Igdalsky later posted on Twitter, “My family and I are praying for all those that were involved in the lightning strikes. … Difficult evening for all.”
The victim was in or near his car in a parking lot after the race had ended when lightning struck the car, Monroe County Coroner Bob Allen said. Bystanders performed CPR on the man, who had gone into cardiac arrest, until paramedics arrived, Allen said. They took him to the track’s medical facility, where efforts to revive him failed. He was pronounced dead at a hospital.
The Pennsylvania 400 was called because of storms, with 98 of the 160 scheduled laps completed. As the storm approached, the track posted messages on its Twitter page to more than 22,000 followers near the end of the race encouraging fans to “seek shelter as severe lightning and heavy winds are in our area.”
The attendance was estimated by the track at 85,000. Public address announcements were made before the storm and the end of the race for fans to take shelter and evacuate the grandstands, Pleban said.
Racetrack officials were reviewing the logs of when the announcements were made, he said. There was no order to evacuate the track premises.
Jeff Gordon, who won the race, said at a post-race news conference that he could hear a huge crack as he walked down the pit road during the storm. “You could tell it was very close,” he said. “I mean, that’s the thing that’s going to take away from the victory, is the fact that somebody was affected by that.”
Kyle Manger, a spectator from New Jersey, told The Sporting News that he saw people hit by lightning near the Turn 3 grandstands.
He said when the severe weather began, he and some friends ran to their truck. “The visibility was very poor and all of a sudden (I) saw a bolt of lightning right in front of our windshield,” he said. “When it became a little more visible, we saw two bodies next to a destroyed tent with people scrambling.”
One person remained hospitalized in critical condition at Lehigh Valley Hospital Center, Pleban said. Three people were taken to hospitals with minor to moderate injuries, and five others were treated on the scene, he said.
“We are deeply saddened that a fan has died and others were injured by lightning strikes following today’s race at Pocono,” NASCAR spokesman David Higdon said. “Our thoughts are with them as well as those affected by this unfortunate accident.”
Gordon’s team, Hendrick Motorsports, also offered sympathies on Twitter, writing, “Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by the lightning” at Pocono Raceway.
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