MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Even growing up in a region of the country infamous for severe weather, Carl Edwards admits he sometimes took such conditions lightly. After the conversation he had Monday, that might not happen again.
The Sprint Cup driver said he spoke by telephone to one of the spectators hospitalized by the lightning strikes that left one dead following Sunday's rain-shortened event at Pocono Raceway. Brian Zimmerman, a 41-year-old father of three from Moosic, Pa., was killed and nine others were transported to area hospitals after two lightning strikes occurred in the vicinity of the race track as fans were leaving the facility.
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:
Attn: Pennsylvania 400 Memorial Fund
1234 Long Pond Road
Long Pond, PA 18334
Edwards said he spoke to a man -- whose name he gave only as Tony -- who was in the area where Zimmerman was killed, and went to the hospital with minor injuries. Another bystander in the group was hospitalized with more serious injuries. Edwards said Pocono Raceway put him in contact with Tony, whom the driver said was a big No. 99 fan.
"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 Tuesday at Martinsville Speedway, where Goodyear was holding a tire test involving 2013 car models. "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 I think 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.'
"It's something that I would have never expected. I walked right out from my hauler to my motorhome 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. I have to tell you that after talking to that gentleman last night, Tony, 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. I think all of us would be willing to do anything we could do to prevent something like that from happening in the future. At the end of the day, this is sports. 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. Tony is a really nice guy. To hear what happened at the track is pretty bad."
Pocono president Brandon Igdalsky said Monday nine spectators, including Zimmerman, were affected by one lightning strike that hit the track seven minutes after the race was called due to weather. Another fan was injured by a second strike more than 90 minutes later. Although track officials said warnings were issued, the injured fan told Edwards that the lightning strike was unexpected.
"From what he told me, I don't want to speak for him or anything, but it was as big of a surprise to him that something like that happened," Edwards said. "They didn't expect that, and I don't think they saw anything coming. They didn't think there were at that big of a risk. It's just tragic."
Jeff Gordon, who won last weekend's race at Pocono, added Tuesday that he was working on obtaining contact information so he could reach out to those affected by the lighting strikes. "That's high on our list right now," he said on a conference call with reporters.
The events following Sunday's race had track and NASCAR officials reviewing data to determine when announcements were made, and reviewing how effective they were in relaying that information to the 85,000 fans in attendance. Edwards believes that ultimately, each person is responsible for their own safety.
"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," he said. "Now, it is NASCAR's and our jobs -- if we can, anyone with the technology at the track or NASCAR -- if we can advise someone and give them information, it's your moral obligation to do that. But I think 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. I know myself personally, I've taken that stuff pretty lightly, even growing up in Missouri with all the severe weather we don't really think it's going to happen to us. But I think at the end of the day, it's each person's individual responsibility."
Spectator killed by lightning strike at Pocono
Weather warnings scrutinized after fan's death
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