The death of a 41-year spectator and injuries to nine other fans have NASCAR and Pocono Raceway reviewing safety procedures when weather threatens.
On Sunday, seven minutes after the Pennsylvania 400 was red flagged due to rain, Brian Zimmerman, was killed by a lightning strike in the parking while leaning on his vehicle.
Track president, Brandon Igdalsky, issued the following statement “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…”
This fatality and the other injuries have led many to question the safety of fans when lightning strikes are forecast.
As the sanctioning body of the race NASCAR determines whether to continue racing when weather issues become known.
“It’s a balancing act, but there’s no doubt that the first and foremost priority is the safety—far and above the actual racing and trying to get the race in,” NASCAR spokesman David Higdon told the Sporting News on Monday. “There’s no question on the decision to be made if there (needs to be an) evacuation, we will follow it.
“If there is a threat of lightning, we will stop the race.”
Even if the race is stopped; emptying the grand stands and getting tens of thousands of spectators to places of safety in an expeditious manner is no small task.
Higdon told USA Today that the NASCAR is in accord with the race track on how it reacted to the weather forecasts “The track acted appropriately, and we are aligned with them," Higdon said. "They have a very substantial emergency action plan that we review with them well in advance (of race weekends). … Ultimately, (the tracks) need to ensure the safety of the fans up to our expectations for them."
The race track is also establishing a memorial fund for the victims of the lightning strikes.
Igdalsky’ statement concludes: “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.”