Monday, August 6, 2012

Monday: Pocono Speedway Media Release

Here is the complete Pocono Speedway release on the incidents involving NASCAR fans, weather alerts and the aftermath:

As reported yesterday, a long time member of our Pocono Raceway family, a spectator has passed away following a lightning strike. According to Monroe County Coroner Robert Allen the name of the deceased is 41 year old Moosic, Pennsylvania resident Brian Zimmerman Additionally; nine other individuals were transferred to local hospitals as a result of two separate lightning strikes.

On behalf of the entire staff here at Pocono Raceway, we are deeply saddened by yesterday’s tragic events. As mentioned, our fans are like family to us and we express our deepest condolences to the individuals and families involved, especially Mr. Zimmerman’s.

We work in conjunction with NASCAR regarding safety of fans, teams and other attendees throughout the course of our race weekends. Additionally, we are in constant communication with local and national agencies regarding weather conditions and emergency services.

At approximately 5:01 p.m. Eastern Time, the first lightning strike occurred on property inside our Grandstand Parking area, located near Gate 5A. A Pocono Raceway Grandstand Fire unit was stationed in the vicinity and witnessed the actual strike. The response was immediate as the unit reported the incident to our control tower and advised spectators were injured. CPR was started immediately to Mr. Zimmerman by a friend on the scene.

Within a matter of 3 minutes, medical personnel and additional emergency services reported on the scene and took control of treatment to individuals. EMT responders were approached by additional individuals who reported symptoms related to the lightning strike. Those affected were taken to the Raceway Medical Centers, where they were examined and transported to local area hospitals for treatment and further evaluation. A total of nine individuals were treated as a result of the initial lightning strike.

At approximately 6:35 p.m. Eastern Time, the control tower was notified of a second possible lightning strike in the vicinity near Gate 3. The individual was immediately transported to 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.

As stated last night at 7:40 p.m. Eastern Time, Mr. Zimmerman was confirmed as deceased. Additional information regarding the other nine individuals involved was not yet available.

At this point in time, the one individual that was in critical condition has now been upgraded to stable. Some have been treated and released. Others involved are pending release as early as today and all are in good spirits.

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.

 We are in the process up establishing a Memorial Fund is for victims of this incident. More information will be released a soon as possible.

There are many story links to this tragedy online. The picture above is from Twitter via Charlotte Observer reporter Jim Utter. Comments may be added below.


Coffeeshop42 said...

From Twitter:Nascar spokesman David Higdon says,"From our initial analysis fans were warned by the track to evacuate the grandstands".

Colorado said...

A sad day for the Zimmerman family, as well as others. Not going to point fingers, but I will say that there are numerous stories on the web in regards to this tragedy, and even the track issueing a statement. Yet, there are several voices that have not been heard from: Jeff Gordon, Brian France, and Mike Helton. It would behoove them to speak something before it is too late.

Buschseries61 said...

Really lousy situation. Can't blame NASCAR, Pocono weather changes by the minute. All we can do is hope everybody learned from this. Hopefully NASCAR and the tracks will have a severe weather policy in place soon. Ultimately, everyone is responsible for their own actions and decisions. But a little more organization in a situation like yesterday may have saved a few people from a traumatic situation.

Anonymous said...

As someone who attended Sonoma and Las Vegas races this year, in Las Vegas I had absolutely ZERO phone, internet, wi fi once the green flag dropped. In Sonoma I had a signal but couldn't get any action on Twitter, couldn't post to Facebook, NOTHING. So sending notifications by Twitter or any other media source other than over the loud speaker is just not acceptable.

ATT cell/wireless service

Anonymous said...


Actually....Jeff Gordon did make a comment about the fans but before he knew one had died. And why does HE have to make a statement just because he was the winner? He had nothing to do with it.

OSBORNK said...

I think this tragic indident will have a substantial impace on attendance. The extended forecast frequently shows a chance of thunderstorms for many tracks. People who have to travel hundreds or thousands of miles to attend a race might decide to not take a chance and stay home. They will feel that their life may be in danger or the track will cut the race short or postpone it due to being overly cautious.

Colorado said...

I wasnt implying that he had anything to do with it. Im not stupid. But as the race winner he could represent a powerful voice of comfort as well as Brian and Mike.

glenc1 said...

when we evacuated the Glen last year, they had giant flashing messages on the Sprintvision screens saying "take cover" plus the track announcer (funny how they had it all ready to go...). But you could not possibly have missed it; something they did right.

Someone mentioned a lack of service few weeks ago about another track & I was surprised.
We've never had trouble getting phone service. It is at the top of a hill though. They did announce that the ISC is upgrading all their tracks with fiber optic cable to the antennas, which should improve wireless service. But you can't rely on that for a warning, not everyone walks around with a phone, believe it or not.

Lost in this is, it isn't just the fans...those drivers and crews were in danger, the NASCAR officials themselves (imagine being on the giant metal flagstand...) and track personnel. The TV crews pulled their cameramen pretty quickly.

Anonymous said...

Dont know what to say,just a tragic and very avoidable incident.I don't know whether to believe the party line about them being warned well ahead of time or not.Something should have been done about these situations a long time ago.

I can't believe we are in 2012 with the type of technology we have and this was still allowed to happen.I can't help but to think "what a way to die".

At an event just trying to enjoy yourself and have a freak thing like this happen.And he left behind a wife and 3 kids.Sad.

Buschseries61 said...

If NASCAR handles this right, I see no impact on attendance OSBORNK. You have equal chances of getting hit by lightning at a baseball, football, soccer, or outdoor track event. If we lived with such fear we would not live.

Sophia said...

I heard Jeff Gordon say something about the lightning and injured people, too, LONG before it was announced someone had died.

MPM said...

I extend my condolences to a wife left without a husband and three kids without a dad. It's a terrible tragedy that overshadows the race itself.

But I see too many people wanting to blame someone. We are adults. Do you want an individual with responsibility to seeing to it you are safe or do you want to take individual responsibility for your own safety?

If I got to the local mall to run errands and as I am preparing to leave see a raging electrical storm outside I have to evaluate do I run to the car and hope for the best or do I stay inside, head for the Food Court for a cup of Joe and wait out the storm? I don't need the mall to tell me it's not safe to go outside. Nor do I need warnings on even lightpost telling me not to lick it during the winter.

That being said it is up to the track to warn its guests of potential danger. But ultimately track officials don;t decide when to throw flags. It is up to NASCAR to throw a red flag because as long as the cars are on the track the fans who paid big $ to see the race are by and large going to stay put.

OSBORNK said...

Buschseries61--I hope NASCAR handles it right but I wonder. You do have equal chances at the other sports but most of the other sports you mention don't have people having to plan so far ahead to travel the great distances that race fans do and spend so much money.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe we are in 2012 with the type of technology we have and this was still allowed to happen.

According to Wikipedia:
An estimated 24,000 people are killed by lightning strikes around the world each year and about 240,000 are injured.

Anonymous said...

OsbornK...other 'stadiums' are built differently...many have concourses where people can stand in a rainstorm; they're just constructed differently. Gives people more options than returning to a car. I'm thinking that's because they're designed for a lot more usage than one or two race weekends a year. I don't really think it's going to change peoples' habits about going to the races.

Personally, I think we'll see the Katrina effect. People will be more careful for a while because this just happened. After it doesn't happen for a while, people will fall back into their old habits. They ought to keep reminding people.

A useful stat might be that about 40 people are killed each year by lightning in the US. Makes it sound like a more manageable number, eh? And it's been going down every year thanks to people being more educated. When thunder roars, go indoors.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:09 I hear what your saying but this was a supposedly "organized" event where people could have been warned ahead of time and they had radar that could almost precisely predict when and where the storm would hit,and there was a whole group of people at the track that had acsess to this information and it still happened.

Lightning strikes are very unpredictable,but people could have gotten to safety well before the storm ever started there.

Anonymous said...

I missed the part explaining why adults have to be told a storm is coming. Darkening skies and thunder not enough of a clue today?

I knew enough since I was a little pain in the ass when a storm was coming. Even ran inside the house without having to be told by mommy and daddy. Yet I also knew I could have been struck by lightning on the way, or even inside the house. It has happened, and often.

In what are called "acts of God" cases like this, it nobody's fault. Poor people were just unfortunate. Wrong place, wrong time. Period.

Ancient Racer said...

The challenge in this case for NASCAR and the Track Operators is to find an approach to this question that is as balanced and as uniform as practicable. Overreaction to the issue is as bad, in my judgement, as underreaction.

In that vein I found the suggestions made in Brian Neudorff's (@NASCAR_WXMAN on Twitter) column on SB Nation site yesterday to be useful. If I could post the link I would but it is easy to find.

GinaV24 said...

@ Colorado, you are incorrect, Jeff Gordon did comment about the incident during some of his post-race interviews.

It is a shame that spectators were injured while at the track.

However, I don't think you can place blame on Gordon for anything here - maybe you don't like him, but he's not responsible for lightning strikes. People blame him for lots of things, but really?

People are injured by natural disasters all the time. We have lots of technology and early warning systems available, but the force that is nature can negate all of that in an instance. Sometimes even taking shelter wouldn't be enough.

Anonymous said...

The right call was painfully obvious in this case. Stop the race when the National Weather Service issued the Severe Thunderstorm WARNING! This severe storm was entirely predictable in this case. It wasn't something that just formed a few miles from the speedway, and blew in on a moments notice. The line had already formed, and was heading that way.

Of course you wouldn't be able to handle every single case of a bad weather event, but it doesn't mean
you should just give up and not try to handle the easy cases, like the Pocono event.

glenc1 said...

AR, I read it also, Very good article; I think JD had it linked via twitter. We may not know precisely where it is going to hit, but they have a pretty good idea of the radius. No reason not to take a look at the policy, as you should do a review when any thing like this happens (as they do in most businesses). It's not completely preventable, but you should never stop trying to lower the odds.

GinaV24 said...

There also are not many safe places to shelter at most race tracks. The rest rooms seem to be the most obvious, but being under the grandstands, if they are all metal, like Pocono, Dover and Richmond for instance, you are still standing in an area that could be impacted by a lightning strike.

I had read an article on the frontstretch about having them clear the stands. That sounds good, but where are people going to go? If it is storming as hard as it obviously was at Pocono on Sunday, I don't want to be walking back to my car in dangerous weather.

It is a difficult situation - obviously if they red flag the race, people would be more likely to move out of the stands, but some people will still not go.

tommy1946 said...

Does anyone one know if metal grandstands might be safer than on the ground? Theory being that the metal would be a better conductor hence offering a path of less resistance to ground. I don't know the answer, just asking. I have read that cars are not safer because of their rubber tires but because the the metal body (on the majority of cars) offers a path of less resistance for the lightening strike to follow rather than through the passenger compartment. Hmmm, maybe if one stayed in the grandstands you would need to duck low so as to not be above the surrounding seats. Surely, there is a scientific basis for best or better chance survival approach. This is NOT a new problem!

MPM said...

Gina, Being under the stands is one of the safest options. I've ridden out many a storm there. While they are metal the support structures of those grandstands are on large slabs of concrete which helps ground them. Do your best to get into one of the open areas. Obviously you don't want to be leaning or sitting on the metal structure itself. If possible, get to your car or truck. Vehicles ride on four or more rubber tires and are well grounded. Just don't try driving in a downpour with 60 MPH winds. If it comes down to being caught in a large open area with lightning striking the immeadiate area, lay yourself down on the ground. Typically the highest objects in the area are what gets hit. Thus taking shelter under a tree is a terrible idea! I watched lightning strike a 100 foot seven trunked red maple just beside my home and it blew the tree to trash. Fortunately it fell away from the house not onto it because my dumb butt was sitting there at the window trying to see what was going on.

MPM said...

No it is not a new problem. I was at Dover at a race in the 70s or early 80s (I do remember Bobby Allison won) when the last two laps were run in a downpour with vivid lightning. At least one fan was killed by lightning that day. I'll do a little research and try to see if I can find what year it was.

MPM said...

May 15th 1985, two spectators were killed and six more injured by lightning strikes at Dover after the race. Those storms were more of the pop up type not a squall line like the storms that killed Mr. Zimmerman Sunday

Anonymous said...

NASCAR should act responsibly to keep fans informed about potentially hazardous conditions. The track owner should do the same.
That said, nobody can keep everyone safe.

I think some perspective is in order. The annual death toll from highway accidents exceeds 30,000. The annual motorcycle death toll exceeds 4000, and the pedestrian death toll also exceeds 4000 (2010 figures). If the fan killed at Pocono had died in an auto accident on his way to the race or on his way home, no national audience would have ever heard about it. In a small TV market, a single fatality probably would have made the local news with a short mention. In a big market, a single fatality accident wouldn't even have made the news. The family would have endured a very private tragedy.

A single death at Pocono causes great discussion and calls for change. Where's the angst and outrage for the 38,000 people killed annually in automotive, motorcycyle, and pedestrian accidents?

We live in a hazardous world, and all of us are risk-takers to one degree or another. The alternative is to lock ourselves in a bomb shelter and live in a state of constant fear.

Some people thrive on risk-taking. When the green flag drops in a cup race, we watch 43 risk-takers compete in a dangerous sport for our entertainment. Other high risk sports exist for the common man who values an adrenaline rush so much that he accepts the risks.

Risk-taking occurs for a lot of people in daily life. I live in Michigan which had a motorcycle helmet law for many years. It was repealed about two months ago after years of campaigning by motorcycyle riders. I now see large numbers of ordinary people riding motorcycles without helmets. State government tried to protect motorcycle riders by law, and they didn't want it.

I make my own choices about safety and risk-taking. By most people's standards, I am a safety conscious person who takes few risks. But I do take risks at times. I am aware of the risks of lightning but have on occasion violated established rules. Life is that way. We take risks and think that accidents won't happen to us. And when they do, we have to accept the responsibility for our own choices.

So NASCAR and the track owners should act responsibly, and we should offer condolences to the family of the man who died at Pocono. But if we are so concerned that we want to eliminate all risks from life, I have to wonder why the same people choose to watch a sport where 43 drivers compete at speeds approaching 200 mph while only inches apart.

GinaV24 said...

MPM, thanks, that is good information. I know when we waited out the storm at Darlington that night, the grandstands above us were all concrete so other than attempting to find the best place to not be buffeted by the wind & rain, I wasn't worrying much about the lightning.

Definitely good advice about NOT leaning against any of the metal when standing under the grandstands. I appreciate the information very much.