There's one thing you can always say about the NASCAR community: as much as we may argue and fuss and fight about which driver is better or Chevy vs Ford or anything, when loss strikes our sport, it bands together.
Unfortunately, the time has come to band together yet again.
This time, the tragedy is a bit more personal, of course. The race fan lost Sunday evening at the Pocono Raceway was doing the same thing we all love doing, which is watching a stock car race. As SB Nation's Jeff Gluck tweeted last night, it could have been any one of us who takes a trip to the race to enjoy ourselves.
For those of us at home, the first hint that something bad had potentially happened was when ESPN lost its signal right after Jeff Gordon had been declared the winner of the event. Allen Bestwick had mentioned just before the announcement that a severe thunderstorm warning was in effect over the track, and when the signal went out, it was hard not to worry that something disastrous had happened. The sense of dread was tempered when they came back from commercial, showing a rain-pelted corner, and talking as if nothing had happened. Andy Petree seemed noticeably shaken, watching out the window and instinctively flinching at one rather intense flash that lit up the sky, but it didn't seem too bad.
Then on Twitter, I saw a fellow by the name of Brian Nicodemus, a Mark Martin fan who had attended the event, describing the frightening scene outside the track. Gradually more and more discussion of what had happened and eyewitness accounts began popping up. First we heard two fans were hurt, then three, then ten. And unfortunately, then the news came that one of the fans had passed away.
We've lost race fans doing just that - being race fans - before. There's just something about this situation and all the circumstances surrounding it that makes it hit harder and closer to home. There'll be plenty of times to point fingers and investigate and this and that later on, though. Right now is the time to grieve and reflect and analyze how we as race fans take charge of our own well-being when something like this happens.
I mention that last task because of another tweet Jeff made while the race was still going on, with the severe lightning already in the area. He asked if we were at a race, with cars still on the race track, and the facility's officials told us to seek shelter from the impending weather, would we go? I replied with an enthusiastic "Hell no." I thought of adding "Well, it depends on who's leading and where Tony Stewart is running." I figure I'm far from the only one who said something similar, but I was being completely serious.
That's clearly insane, and what happened after the race is a reality check. I'm not judging the race fan we lost or the others injured and saying they made any right or wrong decisions - less than 24 hours have passed, so its hard to know exactly what happened. The fact of the matter, though, is that it happened, and just as Jeff said, it could have been any of us at any race.
It is a sad thing when our sport and the people in it have to band together after a tragedy like this, but we seem to all help one another through it by being together. I just pray we can give some comfort to those injured and, of course, to the family and friends of the gentleman who lost his life.
In the coming days I'm sure we'll learn a lot about the fan who passed away Sunday. We'll put a name with the tragedy, and we'll also probably find out what driver in particular he was at Pocono to root on. The fact of the matter is, no matter who he was a fan of and who he didn't like, he was one of us, someone who loved the sport of stock car racing.
God bless him and those who loved him.