NASCAR Nation is in mourning this Monday after losing one of their own, a race fan during a series of storms that turned tragic. As severe weather swept through Pocono Raceway shortly after the race was called, a 41-year-old man was killed and 10 injured as a series of lightning strikes hit behind the grandstands (four remained in area hospitals, one critical at press time). In a heartbeat, the smiles surrounding getting the race in on Sunday were replaced by sadness, confusion and concern as everyone tried to figure out what went wrong.
“I’m pretty sure I know which one it was,” said winner Jeff Gordon. “We were walking down pit road, the umbrellas weren’t doing any good, there was a huge, huge crack from lightning. You can tell it was very close. I mean, that’s the thing that’s going to take away from the victory, is the fact that somebody was affected by that.”
NASCAR, for its part immediately expressed compassion and concern over the incidents, which were centered around the parking lot area behind turn 3. According to witnesses, several strikes occurred, the most serious affecting the deceased man and two others who were around and/or inside a car at the time of the incident.
“We are deeply saddened that a fan has died and others were injured by lightning strikes following today’s race at Pocono,” said NASCAR spokesman David Higdon. “Our thoughts are with them as well as all those affected by this unfortunate accident.”
“A member of our raceway family here, a fan, has passed away,” added track President Brandon Igdalsky. “On behalf of myself, the entire family and everybody here, [we offer] a really heartfelt [sympathy] that this happened.”
The death erased happy faces on Pocono’s staff – several were understandably shaken by the news – after a year’s worth of breathtaking improvements both in and around this 2.5-mile facility. Profits and attendance were also noticeably up for a speedway that has made its mission under new Track President Brandon Igdalsky to cater to the fan. In just 18 months, everything from repaving the facility to shortening the race distance and adding a variety of amenities have been met with almost universal positive reaction.
Now, they’re grieving as everyone involves in the sport digests the short timeline of events. According to the National Weather Service, a severe thunderstorm warning was issued at 4:12 for the speedway, with the heart of the storm expected to arrive at 4:50. Racing stopped shortly after 4:40, giving fans who watched from beginning to end less than 10 minutes to run for cover.
NASCAR, in response to the incident made clear they would stop competition immediately if they felt any weather posed a physical threat to fans. Spokesman Kerry Tharp told the Sporting News the cars were out there until the track was completely soaked in order to keep heat in the asphalt, officials hoping the storm would pass and fans would get to see more racing. The track also clearly issued warnings, several times and loud enough for all to hear as fans were urged to run for cover.
Several drivers tweeted their prayers and support to the families affected by the incident. Brad Keselowski, Jeff Burton and Jimmie Johnson were among those most vocal on Twitter, along with Kasey Kahne.
Thoughts and prayers to the friends and family of the fan who was struck by lightning after today's race. very sad
— Kasey Kahne (@kaseykahne) August 6, 2012
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