Monday, August 6, 2012

First-Hand Account: Pocono Tragedy

Yesterday, the NASCAR community was saddened to learn of what transpired outside the racetrack after the race was called.  The storms were getting bad, and a severe thunderstorm warning had been out for at least 30 minutes.  Unfortunately, many people (including myself) were still in the stands after the warning had been issued.  While many people are quick to place blame on this or that, I would just like to give my first-hand account of what I witnessed. 

First, I was sitting just before the start/finish line listening to Mark Martin's radio, and I was hearing Rodney Childers (Martin's Crew Chief) telling Martin how much longer until the rain came.  The internet and cell phone service had been slow at the track all day because of the sheer volume of people who were texting/calling/tweeting throughout the day. But thankfully, I have Pocono Raceway's tweets sent to my phone as text messages, so I did receive the tweet that said that a severe thunderstorm warning was issued for the track.  Unfortunately, an announcement was not made at the time it was issued. 

Everyone knew it was going to rain soon, and once the race hit Lap 80 (halfway), many fans got out of their seats and left. While many people were doing that, my mom and I remained in our seats while the skies above track began to get darker and darker. We decided that we would stay in our seats until it began to rain.  

When it began to rain, while the race was under caution for the wreck with Jimmie Johnson, my mom and I decided to leave. Many other fans also headed toward the parking lots at the same time. On our way out, we saw lots of lightning strikes off in the distance, and we knew we had to get to the car.

We got to the car, andy once inside, it started to absolutely pour.  Visibility was very poor, and we heard a lot of thunder and saw a lot of lightning that was very close.  At this point, I guess they called the race and told fans to get to cover, but it seemed like it was too little, too late. 

What I saw in the car was stunning. In the middle of the storm, there were multiple people trying to take down their big tents and overhangs that they had set up before the race.  While lightning was off in the distance, all of these people were playing around with big metal poles sticking in the air.

We were sitting in the car when tragedy struck.  About 50 yards away, a huge bolt of lightning struck the ground, and a tent flew up in the air.  We couldn't see the aftermath, but we knew it couldn't be good.  About 20 minutes later, an ambulance pulled into the lot, and I could tell from how the people were acting around the scene that the situation wasn't good.  The paramedics quickly got everyone away from the scene, and got the man onto a stretcher.  While they were taking him to the ambulance, they were doing chest compressions. 

When the ambulance pulled away, I began getting tweets from members of the NASCAR media who had begun to pick up on the story.  By the time we began to leave the track (we'd sat in the parking lot for an hour without moving), we finally got a grasp of what had happened: 10 people injured, 2 critically.  By the time we got back to the hotel, one of the victims had died. 

Unfortunately, this whole situation could have been avoided, and it's sad to see that someone had to die.  But instead of placing blame and talking about what we could have done, let's honor those who were victims and change the policy for what is to be done in the future when severe weather is approaching the track.  NASCAR should learn from this mistake and make changes so that this never happens again.  

I would like to offer my sincere condolence to the victims and their families.  My thoughts and prayers are with all who were affected by this horrible tragedy.

No comments:

Post a Comment