On Sunday night many people on the Twitterverse, and probably those in the grandstands at Charlotte, were momentarily taken aback by a red flag that was issued not for a crazy amount of debris, but for weather nobody could see yet. Was it really necessary to clear the stands, pull all the officials off of pit road and send the drivers scurrying for shelter?
Yes. Yes it was. Within five minutes a torrent of rain poured across the frontstretch while lightning and thunder echoed through the infield. But then comes the question I have often wondered when weather is in the area and I’m comfortably situated 50 rows up…where can all those fans actually go?
Unfortunately, there is still no good answer to that question at most of our tracks. The shimmering aluminum grandstands sure look nice on a sunny day, but they serve as a giant lightning rod when a sudden storm rolls in. If I was to simply take shelter beneath them, I may still get electrocuted if a bolt of lightning ends up grounding through the structure.
If you look around the rest of the fan zone, is there another safe structure? Well, the restrooms are at least concrete, but can probably only fit a few hundred people inside. The ticket office could cram another handful of lucky individuals inside. So, the track then recommends that fans return to their cars to wait out the storm.
Uh huh. It usually takes us a half hour to walk from the car into the track. Even at a trot, the deluge will have arrived long before I reach the dubious shelter of the sedan.
This problem exists at every large outdoor venue. The property management executes an evacuation because they know the fans aren’t safe in their seats, but really we aren’t much better off fending for ourselves.
Is there a good solution? No, probably not. Unless government regulators decide to get their hands dirty and require entertainment venues and sports arenas to construct vast shelters that can accommodate 50,000 people and have a foot-traffic flow able to support a massive influx of people in just 10 minutes.
Even if that came to pass, I doubt we could ever herd that many people into such a small space so quickly.
Ultimately, we have to give a nod to NASCAR and Charlotte Motor Speedway for following their own safety procedures and throwing the red flag while evacuating the stands. At the same time, it is up to every fan to understand the risks that attending an open air event can pose and be prepared to look after their own well-being during an event.
Following up on all good things regarding safety from this weekend, once again we can be thankful that all the engineering done to create a protective cockpit for the IndyCar series really does work, as Scott Dixon’s car took a spectacular flight through the air landing in the catch fence and on top of the SAFER barrier. I still want to see the cockpit get enclosed, but can appreciate the durability of the existing design.
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