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Fan who died at Pocono identified

8/6/2012 - NASCAR

LONG POND, Pa. -- The NASCAR fan killed by a lightning
strike at a track in northeastern Pennsylvania was a 41-year-old
man from a nearby county, authorities said Monday.

Brian Zimmerman, of Moosic, Pa., died as he stood near his car
in the parking lot of Pocono Raceway, according to the Monroe
County coroner. A woman who answered the phone at Zimmerman's home
declined comment.

Nine other people were injured during Sunday's violent storm,
though it wasn't immediately clear how many might have been struck
by lightning. One who had been listed Sunday night in critical
condition was upgraded to stable.

The crowd was advised over public address systems and through
social media to take cover Sunday afternoon when lightning and
heavy rain hit the track near the end of the race.

But some NASCAR fans posted on the raceway's Facebook page that
they never heard the weather-related announcements.

Pocono Raceway president and CEO Brandon Igdalsky expressed
sorrow at a news conference Monday afternoon at the track, where a
large U.S. flag flew at half-staff. He said that "fans are like
family to us" and that he planned to visit other victims.

One bolt hit the grandstand parking area around 5 p.m. Sunday,
killing Zimmerman and injuring eight others, Igdalsky said. A
second possible strike came around 6:35 p.m., sending a ninth
person to the hospital with minor injuries, he said.

Brian Mattson of Greentown, Pa., said he and friend Tom Deacher
had just gotten into their truck to leave the track when they saw
the first bolt hit about two car rows in front of them. Mattson
said sparks flew "like a Roman candle" after the lightning hit a
tailgating canopy next to a car.

"When the tent collapsed, I knew it wasn't right," said
Deacher, of Mayfield, Pa.

They ran over and found two men on the ground. Deacher said he
and others tried to administer CPR to the men until paramedics
arrived. They don't know if one of the men was Zimmerman.

Communicating incoming weather is often a challenge for
officials at tracks throughout the country. Most such facilities --
especially the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway -- are massive, with fans
spread among grandstand seating and a spacious infield where fans
camp and tailgate.

NASCAR stays in contact with track officials when weather may
affect a race, but it's the responsibility of track officials to
communicate with race fans about advisories or severe storms
approaching.

Decisions about proceeding with a race are typically made
minute-by-minute, although there have been instances in the last
several years when NASCAR worked with track officials in advance of
incoming weather in the interest of fan safety.

The decision to postpone a 2008 race at Richmond was made a day
before the scheduled start because Tropical Storm Hanna was moving
toward Virginia.

In 2010, all track activity at Talladega Superspeedway was
canceled because of extended periods of severe weather. Track
officials made the decision based on advice from the Talladega
County Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather
Service, which warned of potential tornadoes.

And this season, the Daytona 500 was postponed for the first
time in its 54-year history.

That's one of the problems NASCAR has when rain does threaten an
event: Fans feel cheated if they don't see a full race, and
NASCAR's first priority is usually to try to wait out a storm in
order to complete all the scheduled laps.

Ed Klima, director of emergency services at Dover International
Speedway in Delaware, said that while "the facility is ultimately
responsible for the fans' safety ... it's obviously very difficult
to get people to leave if there's still cars going around the
racetrack."

He also noted that racetracks are not built like NFL stadiums,
which have concourses where fans can gather during inclement
weather.

NASCAR has been known to wait hours to attempt to finish a race,
and in 2009 brought teams back the next day to finish the
Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

There have been 19 lightning fatalities nationally so far this
year, which is about average, according to John Jensenius, a
lightning safety specialist with the National Weather Service.

"There is simply no safe place outside," said Jensenius.

The deaths have occurred while people were playing soccer,
fishing, doing yard work, picking squash or berries, and simply at
outdoor gatherings.

While not specifically addressing the strike at Pocono,
Jensenius said that "typically in parking lots, we see lightning
strike poles and then spreading out along the ground."