Drivers: Only so much sport can do

Updated: August 7, 2012, 5:15 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Carl Edwards isn't sure more stringent policies by Pocono Raceway or NASCAR would have helped avoid the tragedy that left one fan dead and nine others injured when lightning struck following Sunday's Sprint Cup race.

He's also not opposed to stricter policies if they help to save lives.

"I don't want this to come across harsh or anything because I have a huge amount of sympathy for what happened, but at the end of the day every person is responsible for themselves," Edwards said during Tuesday's Goodyear tire test of the 2013 car at Martinsville Speedway.

"If we can advise someone and give them information, it's your moral obligation to do that. But at the end of the day it's a good wake-up call for all of us, whether we're at a race track or walking out of the shopping center to our cars, that they issue storm warnings for a reason. ... At the end of the day, it's each person's individual responsibility" to stay out of harm's way.

NASCAR and Pocono officials said on Monday that they are reviewing the circumstances of Sunday to see if a change in policy is needed to prevent another lightning-related tragedy.

One of the issues is whether a halt to the race or an evacuation of fans 20 or 30 minutes before the storm hit the area should have occurred. It is up to NASCAR to stop a race and a track's decision whether to evacuate.

The first warning to fans at Pocono came at 4:21 p.m. ET, but the race wasn't called until 4:54. The lightning strike that led to the death of 41-year-old fan Brian F. Zimmerman of Moosic, Pa., and injuries to nine others occurred at 5:01 in the parking lot behind the main grandstand.

"I've read a little bit about it and I know there's a lot of discussion about what NASCAR should have done or the track should have done, but at the end of the day it's Mother Nature and it's very difficult for anyone to take responsibility and say, 'We should have done this or done that.'

"I walked right out from my hauler to my motor home in the middle of that rainstorm and I ignorantly didn't think about the dangers that were there. I think we all maybe take that stuff a little too lightly."

Meanwhile, a second lightning strike victim was discharged from a Lehigh Valley, Pa., hospital on Tuesday, a hospital spokesman told the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader.

Edwards said he talked to one of Zimmerman's friends who was injured in the lightning strike.

"He told me the story in detail about what happened to him and his friends and it sounded like a very terrible scene," Edwards said. "I have to tell you that after talking to that gentleman, my thoughts and prayers are with him and his really good friend, who is pretty bad off.

"He's recovering and the family that lost their father, it's tragic. All of us would be willing to do anything we could do to prevent something like that from happening in the future."

That includes stopping a race due simply to the threat of dangerous weather even if it might alter a race's outcome.

"At the end of the day, this is sports," Edwards said. "It's supposed to be fun. Everybody is going out there to have a good time and we need to do things the safest way possible.

"They [Zimmerman and his friends] didn't expect that and I don't think they saw anything coming. They didn't think they were at that big of a risk. It's just tragic."

Jeff Gordon, who won the race to climb back into Chase contention, said reaching out to those affected by the lightning strike is a priority for him.

"As far as procedures and all those things, NASCAR always is in a difficult position when it comes to weather," Gordon said by conference call Tuesday. "They do a really good job with working with tracks and local officials in coming up with the best scenario."

Martin Truex Jr., who also was present for the Martinsville test, said stopping a race could alter its outcome.

"That's like having a debris caution at times," Truex said. "We know how they can throw a monkey wrench into people's plans sometimes and pit strategy and all that goes along with it.

"I don't know what the answer is there. Obviously, with what happened this past weekend was tragic and you never want to see things like that happen. Whatever steps they think they need to take, we'll support them 100 percent."

Five-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson agreed.

"Safety is top priority for everybody," he said. "I don't know if a 20-minute window is enough time to safely evacuate everyone. Sure you can get them out of the grandstands, but the lightning strike was in the parking lot.

"I don't know what the answer is, but NASCAR has worked so hard to make safety a priority for the fans. I know everybody will work hard to make sure they do the right thing."

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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