News & Media

Spectator killed by lightning strike at Pocono

August 07, 2012, David Caraviello,

LONG POND, Pa. -- A spectator at Pocono Raceway was killed by a lightning strike Sunday that also sent nine other fans to area hospitals.

Pocono track president Brandon Igdalsky said Sunday evening that a fan injured by a lightning strike that occurred shortly after the weather-shortened conclusion of the Pennsylvania 400 had been pronounced dead by Dr. Peter Favini, the emergency room director at Pocono Medical Center in nearby Stroudsburg, Pa.

Memorial fund

Pocono Raceway has established the Pennsylvania 400 Memorial Fund to benefit the victims of the lighting strike tragedy which occurred following the Sprint Cup Series race on Aug. 5. Donations will be accepted at any PNC Branch or by mailing checks/money orders, addressed to "Pennsylvania 400 Memorial Fund" to: Pocono Raceway Attn: Pennsylvania 400 Memorial Fund 1234 Long Pond Road Long Pond, PA 18334

"Unfortunately, a member of our raceway family here, a fan, has passed away," Igdalsky said.

A violent thunderstorm struck the area Sunday afternoon, leading NASCAR officials to call the Sprint Cup event after 98 of a scheduled 160 laps had been completed. Jeff Gordon was the winner. There were lightning strikes in the area shortly after the race concluded. Track spokesman Bob Pleban said there were at least two strikes on the raceway property, one in the parking lot behind the grandstand and another near a gate area. He added that the track broadcasted warnings for spectators to take cover.

In addition to the fatality, nine other spectators were transported to area hospitals, including one with critical injuries who was taken to Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown, Pa. One fan with what Pleban termed as a moderate injury and another with a minor injury were taken to Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Another spectator with a moderate injury also was transported to Pocono Medical Center.

In addition, five spectators who originally were treated at the race track were sent to hospitals for further evaluation. Three went to Pocono Medical Center and two to Lehigh Valley Hospital.

"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 in a statement released by the sanctioning body. "Our thoughts are with them as well as all those affected by this unfortunate accident."

A number of NASCAR drivers reacted to the news via the social network Twitter. "I want to throw up after reading the [news] of today's tragic death," Brad Keselowski wrote in a series of posts. "... How terribly, terribly sad ... My condolences to the family. ... Hey fans -- we do this for you. So when something like this happens and takes one of you from us, it hurts."

Added Mark Martin: "I just got home and found out about the tragic loss we had today at Pocono," he wrote. "I am so sorry for the [families] that were involved."

The lightning strikes were so prominent that even Gordon noticed them when walking from his race car. Although the fatality was not announced until after the driver had left the track, news of the injuries clearly put a damper on his celebration.

"We were walking down pit road, the umbrellas weren't doing any good, [and] there was a huge, huge crack from lightning," he said. "You could tell it was very close. I mean, that's the thing that's going to take away from the victory, is the fact that somebody was affected by that. I mean, the fans here are so loyal and avid. When we were going back to the garage area, there was a group of fans chanting up there that were not leaving. That's just so unfortunate, because they're so loyal and avid here, so you hate to hear something like that. Certainly our thoughts are with them. I hope everything is OK there."

Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. Pocono staff said no further information on the deceased spectator was immediately available because the family still was being notified.

"Our heartfelt thoughts and best wishes to those that were injured," Pleban said, "and our condolences to the loved ones of the person that is deceased."