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Triumph and Tragedy in NASCAR


The Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway was dominated, once again, by Jimmie Johnson, yet the conclusion of the race hatched more storylines than one could count:

“Johnson blows lead, hands win to Jeff Gordon.”

“Gordon breaks 31-race winless skid in unlikely fashion.”

“Gordon, Gustafson celebrate wins and birthdays at Pocono.”

“Gordon in Chase wild card contention once again.”

“Earnhardt drops transmission, retains points lead.”

Yet, moments after the event ended on lap 98 of the scheduled 160-lap distance due to an intense thunderstorm that blanketed the area, one storyline put all others into perspective.

Brian F. Zimmerman, 41, of Moosic, Penn., a father of two, was killed when he was struck by lightning in the facility’s parking lot. The fatality was reported by Pocono track president Brandon Igdalsky on Sunday, nearly three hours after the race.

Nine others were also injured in the strike. Four victims were taken to Lehigh Valley Health Network. As of Monday morning, one has been discharged and three remain in stable condition. The other five were treated and released at various hospitals in the area on Sunday.

According to The Times Leader in Wilkes-Barre, Penn., Zimmerman’s vehicle was struck while he was standing next to the open back hatch. Paramedics were unable to revive him, and he was pronounced dead on arrival at Pocono Medical Center in East Stroudsburg, Penn.

Brian Neudorff, a certified broadcast meteorologist with KMVT-TV in Twin Falls, Idaho, and popular NASCAR Twitter contributor who updates fans of raceday weather conditions, constructed a rough timeline of the severe weather event.

According to Neurdorff, the National Weather Service issued a warning for the track at 4:12 p.m. EST. Despite lightning in the area, NASCAR did not red flag the race — halting all on-track action — until 4:43 pm. EST when rain began to fall.

The severe threat was relayed to fans at the track via public address system when the race was red flagged — warning them to take shelter and evacuate the grandstands — although many with radio, scanner and/or social media access were made aware of the potential for dangerous conditions well before then.

As race controller, it is NASCAR’s call to stop an event for any reason. It is the track’s responsibility to warn fans and coordinate evacuation efforts if inclement weather is threatening.

“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.”

Pocono Raceway released a statement on Monday, stating, in part that, “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. EST, 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.

“We are in the process up establishing a Memorial Fund is for victims of this incident.”

by Matt Taliaferro
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