- Associated Press - Monday, August 6, 2012

LONG POND, Pa. — Brian Mattson and Tom Deacher climbed into their truck and got set to leave saturated Pocono Raceway. That’s when a lightning bolt slammed into a tent canopy just a couple of rows away from where they had parked, shooting off sparks like a Roman candle.

The NASCAR fans jumped out and found two men on the ground. Deacher and others tried to administer CPR until paramedics arrived.

“When the tent collapsed, I knew it wasn’t right,” Deacher said.

The lightning strike was one of two that hit just outside the track Sunday during a confusing and tragic end to a day of racing. One of the bolts killed 41-year-old Brian Zimmerman, and a total of nine others were injured.

A day later, Pocono officials said they had warned fans to take cover when the weather turned nasty — even as stock cars continued to race around the track — but some fans insisted there had been no warning. Others took to Twitter and Facebook to say the announcements in the grandstands and camping areas to seek refuge in their cars came too late, after the worst of the rain hit the track.

“Mother Nature’s sneaky,” track President Brandon Igdalsky said. “You don’t know what she’s going to do.”

Zimmerman, of nearby Moosic, died as he stood near his car with the back hatch open in the parking lot, according to the Monroe County coroner.

One of the other injured fans was listed in critical condition Sunday night but was upgraded to stable, Igdalsky said. The remaining eight people had been treated and released from the hospital.

“The individuals that were affected have spoken to the hospital folks, and they’re in good spirits,” Igdalsky said. “It’s just a freak incident. They said they had a great day and, boom, this happened to us.”

Track officials said the crowd of 85,000 was advised several times over public address systems and social media to take cover Sunday afternoon when storms threatened the area near the end of the race. They were checking their logs for details of those announcements.

But some posted on the raceway’s Facebook page that they never heard the weather warnings. One fan noted in a Twitter message to the Associated Press that the races are so loud fans can’t hear people near them, let alone the public address system.

NASCAR spokesman Dave Higdon said Monday that officials are reviewing how the track carried out its emergency procedures. He cautioned against rushing to judgment.

“Anytime something like this happens, we make sure we look at it again and see if there’s anything we should have done different,” Higdon said. “It’s never a good day for us when someone passes and people are hurt.”

A severe storm warning was issued for the area at 4:12 p.m., and NASCAR called the race at 4:54 p.m.

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.

There have been 20 lightning fatalities nationally so far this year. The deaths have occurred while people were playing soccer, fishing, doing yardwork, picking squash or berries, and simply at outdoor gatherings.

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