Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Will I Go Back to Pocono Raceway?

I was at Pocono this past weekend for the races.  We had tickets for Saturday and Sunday so I was all set for a great weekend like I had in June.

August wasn't really anything like June.  My hotel was a disaster this time but it happens like that sometimes.  I was just ready for the races.

For anything longer that a very short walk I have been on a cane or walker almost constantly since my March hospital stay.  Partially from my RA but also for what they have determined to be seizure-like issue which causes me to lose feeling on the right side of my body.  So walking around a race track definitely required at least the cane this weekend.

We arrived on Friday so we could go to the track early on Saturday for qualifying.  Saturday the rain even held off until we were in the parking lot to hit.  Sunday did not want to cooperate.

Let me say that I love Pocono.  All those stairs piss me off to walk up with a bunch of breaks but I love the track enough to take the 20-30 minutes it takes me to get up them.  It's a beautiful track in a beautiful setting.  I just don't know that I would be able to go back.

Sunday just had a different vibe from the Sprint Cup Race in June from the start.  Right before driver introductions, it started to pour rain.  For other people it meant take cover.  For me it meant all those stairs I planned on not having to use until the end of the race.  People we in such a hurry to get under the grandstand that they didn't notice or didn't care that the person they are rushing in front of them has a cane.  About halfway down I slid on the stairs.  I didn't fall but caught myself enough that I popped my knee.  We made it down the stairs in time for them to say to make our way to our cars to take shelter.  Under/behind the grandstand was the first time I heard the speakers clear.  So we walked to the car in the rain.

After the rain stopped, we heard the dryers come out and them say that introductions would be soon.  By the time they announced we could go back, I was debating if I even could do the stairs because my knee was already swollen so much it was pulling on my jeans.  I was already soaked, I spent two nights in a crappy hotel, and I had been in a car for 5+ hours to get there...I was not going home without seeing this race.

So we made our way back to our seats which took me probably almost an hour from car to my seat with breaks.  The race was a good race.  The biggest problem was that you could barely hear anything.  I had a speaker in front of me and could barely hear anything.  I don't know if the weather caused issues but it was worse than it was before the rain.  So we watched the screens and the track and said oh well.

I picked up the word rain through the speakers from the station covering the event and something about Joey Logano's team radar and 10-15 minutes away.  The sky had darkened quickly about us and I decided I wanted to avoid the problems with walking down the stairs in the rain so we started down to at least watch from under the grandstand.  At the same time we were coming down, the employees at the stairs for our section were packing up and moving down the stairs.

Picture of the sky above us at 4:13 right before we started to leave.
I figured that we were just leaving from a little rain.  If Pocono made several announcements about the severe weather, we didn't hear it in our section.  Between the noise of the cars, wind and low sound there was very little coming through. 

We stood under the grandstand for a few minutes then decided to head to the car.  The clouds were getting darker and looking bad.  I still hadn't heard anything at that point about seeking shelter like we did before the race so we took our time walking to the lot.  by the time we got to our car in the disabled/preferred parking, it started to rain.  By the time we back up and got in line to leave the lot it was pouring again. 

This is the point I started getting Pocono tweets about taking cover and the lightning started.  There were a few strikes all around us.

And I said to the others in the car as the lot began to flood that we are all just sitting ducks in a new lake in Long Pond. 

It took us an hour to go to the end of our parking aisle.  We all saw the lightning hitting in areas around us and people are trying to get out, we have no idea that anyone has been hit.  We just keep getting messages saying to seek shelter and sitting in traffic going nowhere while the lot floods and people are getting more angry.  I saw one post that was a comment on Pocono's status update on Facebook that people had been hit by lightning but who knew if it was true or it was someone looking to cause chaos. 

About an hour and a half into traffic someone comes out to direct traffic only to direct an ambulance in the lot.  That's when you realize someone had been hit.  My heart breaks for the families of the person who died and those that were hurt.

I realize that staff was out of the storm for safety and taking care of issues but there needs to be a better way.  It took us almost 3 hours to get out of the lot.  People went from trying to get out of the rain to tempers so high that people got out of cars to yell at other people, people trying to ram each other in their cars, and people arguing to police at the exit. 

I think had they been able to communicate with people that there was an emergency or if there had been a better system for getting people out, there wouldn't have been as much chaos about the day.  All that we kept getting messages to seek shelter for severe weather.  When you create a chaotic situation, you get chaos.

Will I go back to Pocono Raceway?  If you are asking me today, my answer is probably not.  By next year, I may change my mind. 

If I do not return, it's not because people were hit by lightning .   That can happen anywhere.  It's not because NASCAR didn't stop the race sooner.  Just because they are racing, doesn't mean I have to stay.  It's not because I didn't look at the sky and make a "sensible" decision.  The sky got dark many times over the weekend without a single drop or dropping a couple and then nothing.

If we can get a double screen to show us a driver on an interview in the garage while still seeing the race, a weather warning can come up on screen to give me the educated option to leave with the impending weather.  In a bad weather situation, that should override whomever is running their coverage on the screen.

I do not sit around on my cell phone the entire time I am at the race, I am there to watch a race.  I am personally responsible for choosing when to leave but the track should be sure that if there is severe weather in the area that they are warning you in every possible way they can.  Not just by one or two methods not everyone may have access to.

If I do not return it will be because I love Pocono but I do not trust them. I walk with a cane, if I had waited until the weather hit because I didn't hear an announcement, I still would have been at the grandstand when the lightening got closer.  By the time I had made it to the car, it would have been done storming.

While I wasn't directly affected by the issues at Pocono, it opens up the whatifs.  And between both severe weather issues on Sunday, my love for Pocono isn't winning right now.

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