NASCAR Fans Warned of Lightning: Racetrack Officials

Lightning struck at least twice, killing one person and injuring nine others at the Pocono Raceway during a NASCAR race that drew 85,000

By Karen Araiza and Lauren DiSanto
|  Tuesday, Aug 7, 2012  |  Updated 12:12 PM EDT
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Brian Zimmerman, 41, was killed by lightning that hit inside the Grandstand Parking lot at the Pocono Raceway on Sunday. Multiple strikes were reported behind the racetrack's grandstands and outside one of the gates as NASCAR fans were leaving. A total of nine fans were injured. NBC10's Jesse Gray spoke to the victim's neighbor.

NBC10 Philadelphia - Jesse Gary

Brian Zimmerman, 41, was killed by lightning that hit inside the Grandstand Parking lot at the Pocono Raceway on Sunday. Multiple strikes were reported behind the racetrack's grandstands and outside one of the gates as NASCAR fans were leaving. A total of nine fans were injured. NBC10's Jesse Gray spoke to the victim's neighbor.

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Lightning struck at least twice at Pocono Raceway, killing one person and injuring nine other NASCAR fans on Sunday.

Multiple strikes were reported behind the racetrack's grandstands and outside one of the gates as fans were leaving, according to Pocono spokesman Bob Pleban.

Brian Zimmerman, 41, was killed by the first bolt that hit inside the Grandstand Parking lot at 5:01, according to a statement posted Monday on the track's website. Zimmerman's friend started CPR immediately, but Zimmerman, who was from Moosic, Pa., died at the hospital. Eight other people were treated for symptoms at local hospitals.

Then at 6:35 p.m. lightning struck again not too far from the first strike. One person was hurt that time and hospitalized for minor injuries

Racetrack officials say fans were urged to take cover over the public address systems and through social media. The track posted a message to its 22,000 Twitter followers that read "seek shelter as severe lightning and heavy winds are in our area."

The online statement reads:

"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."

An estimated 85,000 people were at the race, which was called early due to the storms.

USA Today reported a detailed timeline of how the racetrack alerted fans leading up to the deadly lightning storm:

A severe storm warning was issued for the region surrounding the track at 4:12 p.m. ET, but the race wasn't stopped until 4:50 p.m., after 98 of a scheduled 160 laps.

At 4:21 p.m., the track issued warnings on its Twitter and Facebook accounts: "ATTENTION FANS: Severe thunderstorms are in the area which will produce high winds and lightning. Should arrive in 10-15 mins.At 4:38 p.m., cars were still on the track.

The race was called 12 minutes later. Pleban said an announcement was made on the track's public address system immediately after the race advising fans to leave the grandstands because lightning was imminent.

At 4:59 p.m., the track issued another warning via social media: "ATTENTION FANS: Be advised, seek shelter as severe lightning and heavy winds are in our area."

Racetrack officials were reviewing the logs of when the announcements were made and have not found an order for fans to "evacuate" the premises.

Zimmerman was standing by his vehicle with the back hatch open when it was struck by lightning. According to Monroe County Coroner Bob Allen, "witnesses reported that he collapsed to the ground and CPR was immediately started by a Paramedic who was a bystander."

Jeff Gordon, who was declared the winner with 98 0f 160 laps finished, said he feels for the victims. He also said he believes he knows which lightning bolt did the damage.

"I'm pretty sure I know which one it was," Gordon said. "We were walking down pit road, the umbrellas weren't doing any good, there was a huge, huge crack from lightning. You could tell it was very close."

A spectator who took cover, posted this storm video on YouTube:

On Tuesday, the Pocono Raceway announced they had set up a memorial fund to benefit the victims of this lightning strike.

Pennsylvania 400 Memorial Fund, Pocono Raceway

Attn: Pennsylvania 400 Memorial Fund

1234 Long Pond Road

Long Pond, PA 18334

The track is located in Long Pond, Pennsylvania and hosts Cup races twice a year, according to AOL Sporting News.

It's the third lightning strike in the last five days that has sent people to the hospital in our area.

On Friday, a pregnant woman, her husband and their two little boys were eating outside their apartment complex in Wilmington, Delaware when lightning hit their picnic umbrella. The family was treated and released.

Last Wednesday, coincidentally, another pregnant woman and her family were hospitalized down the Jersey Shore in Wildwood. They were all huddled under a beach umbrella when a storm came up quickly. Lightning hit near them, leaving some of the victims with a tingling sensation in their hands and feet. The four family members were also treated and released.

Over the weekend, authorities in Chicago showcased their severe weather action plan when they moved more than 100,000 people attending Lollapalooza into underground garages and local businesses as a storm blew through. The concert was put on hold for two hours.

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You can also download our new weather APP for both iPhone and Android to track the storm with interactive radar. It too gives you severe weather alerts, watches and warnings.


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