Remembering Safety Team hero, Lon Bromley

Lon J. Bromley epitomized everything that was right about first responders and everything that was right about the CART/Champ Car Safety Team. Anne Proffit, Martyn Thake and David Malsher pay tribute to a deeply good man.

Remembering Safety Team hero, Lon Bromley
Lon Bromley
Lon Bromley
Lon Bromley
Lon Bromley
The Champ Car Safety Team salutes the field before the green flag
Lon Bromley
Champ Car safety team to the rescue
ChampCar Safety Team at work
New Safety Team sponsor
Champ Car Safety Team
Safety team responds to the incident in turn 1
Safety crew comes to the rescue of A.J. Allmendinger
Alex Zanardi poses with the Simple Green safety crews who were instrumental in the extraction from his car after his accident two years ago
CART safety crew out on the track
Safety crew retrieves Jan Heylen
Champ Car safety crew at work on the crashed car of Katherine Legge
Lon Bromley
The Champ Car safety team arrives to help Bruno Junqueira
Safety Team salute the drivers
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Anne Proffit writes…

American motorsports lost another one of its heroes on Saturday, October 1st, when Lon J. Bromley, founder and keeper of the light for CART’s and Champ Car’s superb safety team lost his life in a boating accident in Oregon.

He was enjoying some special fishing time with former Champ Car series medical director Dr. Chris Pinderski and his young son. According to sources, their boat hit a sand bar and capsized. Only the Pinderskis made it to shore.

Born and raised in New Jersey, Bromley worked as an equipment operator at Dallenbach Sand and Gravel. He was also Wally Dallenbach’s ranch manager in Basalt, Colo. before he moved to Rawlins, Wyoming, where he served as EMS director at the local hospital.

Lon Bromley worked with CART/Champ Car from 1987 through the series’ close at Long Beach in April 2008. He put together a team of exemplary fire, safety, medical experts who helped save and enrich the lives of all drivers, crew, ancillary community members, officials and even media. He advanced the status of on-site rescue at races throughout the country and the world.

Plus, Lon Bromley was fun. All business when he was working; all play when he wasn’t. Wherever the safety team parked their rigs during a race weekend, laughter and camaraderie took part. Once the work was completed it was time for fellowship and fun.

I have many a memory of hanging with Lon and his team at various tracks – for that fun aspect – but the area that sticks in my mind was a mound above pit road at Road America, where the safety team held sway. It was close to pit-out, so the team could activate (or return) at a moment’s notice, and had a perch where they could survey the pit area and paddock. The rolling medical center was close by as well.

It was there that Bromley explained to me the pre-race activities he and his team performed at every event, how they worked with the local crews - EMTs, physicians, tow-truck operators, medical helicopter operators to train them all to accurately perform the work that was needed. All the locals he trained admitted the work they did with Bromley helped them in their daily duties.

While I can’t remember specifics, that particular conversation sticks like a craw in my mind. Safety Team member Bill Luchow, upon learning of Bromley’s demise stated, “Let’s make sure we keep Lon and his family in our prayers. RIP Lon, you made a difference in many lives.”

A wave, a smile, a hug, courtesy of Lon Bromley. That’s all it took for someone having a bad day at the racetrack to get their attitudes back. That’s just the effect he had.

Lon took safety to heart with his work and with his life. An emergency medical, fire, search and rescue expert outside his racing work, he was a member of the International Council of Motorsport Sciences. Bromley assisted in the planning and building of race tracks, worked on track inspections worldwide and, of course, safety preparation and coordination of logistics with local ambulances, fire departments, tow truck operators and the Life Flight helicopter services to hospitals that are integral to every race.

Most recently, Lon Bromley served as director of safety for Circuit of The Americas in Austin. Home of Formula 1’s United States Grand Prix since 2012, COTA is a difficult circuit for any safety squad to work, given its 3.4-miles length and few ingress/egress points, outside of tunnels. Lon Bromley took into account all of the difficulties at COTA and considered them just another challenge to be overcome. He made certain that safety at this circuit was always paramount.

That was to be expected of a man whose dedication to his craft and his love of the sport always shone through in his daily work. Go about it with a good attitude and you’ll always be successful, his body language said.

An avid fisherman, Lon Bromley was enjoying himself with compatriot Pinderski and his young son on a lazy Saturday morning when this tragedy occurred. As I stop to share these memories of Lon, it makes me think of the similarity to another passing earlier this year of NHRA starter Mark Lyle, who went to the assistance of someone drowning and suffered the same fate.

These are the kinds of men who make racing such a humane sport.

RIP, Lon J. Bromley, the first Safety 1 - your loss is breaking a lot of hearts.  

Martyn Thake writes…

A fellow Safety Team member who moved into racetrack design, Martyn kindly sent us some of these pictures. He wrote on his Facebook post:

“Yesterday I lost my best friend, my brother. Lon and I started working for CART on the same day, April 2nd, 1987. He showed up late and came crashing into the room at that crappy Holiday Inn in downtown Long Beach way after midnight and the first word he ever said to me was F***…We became friends immediately.

We roomed together for almost 10 years and traveled all over the world having more fun than we probably should have. His friendship made me a better man, a better father and a better husband. I will miss you more than either of us would possibly have imagined. Sometime soon, when I am in a better place and surrounded by our friends, I will pour a Stoli Gibson (no vermouth), light up a big fat Cuban and toast your incredible and impactful time on this world.

In the past 24 hours I have talked to many of the guys on the team – Toni, Mary Lou, Peppy and Wally. We are all still trying to process this, I am having a very hard time getting my head around it.

All our thoughts and prayers are with Toni, Lon Stephen, Lynzy and Kelly today.

RIP Lon J. Bromley 1946 – 2016  

David Malsher writes…

Damn. Damn it all. Less than two years after we lose David Hollander to brain cancer, we lose Lon Bromley to a simple accident. They were CART and Champ Car’s Safety 2 and Safety 1 – as per the call-sign on their rescue trucks – who sat poised at the corners of racetracks the length and breadth of North America, and even beyond. I once described them as 'Unlikely-looking Angels in Waiting', but it was meant as an absolute compliment. Without those kinds of folk around, the world is a little less safe.

Lon, as director of safety, had a drive to work hard that emanated from his modesty-tinged confidence. It went along the lines of, “We know we’re pretty good but there are still things that we can do better.” Hence the relentless practice routine they went through each morning at the racetracks, trying to find new, safer ways to extricate drivers, turn over flipped cars, use rescue tools etc.

As both Anne and Martyn have mentioned above, Lon was charming and entertaining company. The only problem about having dinner or a drink with him was that he’d often go to bed early in order to wake at the crack of dawn and head to the track for more practice, practice, practice.

In down time, he appeared to have all the time in the world, walking and talking quite languidly, yet in practice he was all business, moving swiftly around an accident scene, directing and acting with complete authority. Lon had his team of first-responders so well drilled, I often thought they worked almost silently and telepathically. Not once did I ever see the CART/Champ Car Safety team appear to panic. It’s easy to see why the team members were universally respected.

The one time I saw Lon slightly ill at ease was when I sat down for a long-form interview with him and thus used a dictaphone. He wanted to give me all the right facts, dates and names, and he spoke very carefully to make sure nothing could be misinterpreted. It was very flattering; he was clearly taking the interview as seriously as I did. It was only when I turned off the tape that he visibly relaxed and the off-the-record anecdotes began… Lon was an innately kind and caring man, but he could be blunt about those he held in low esteem.

It was deeply sad that following the Indy Racing League/Champ Car merger in 2008, folks like Bromley and Hollander suddenly found themselves with no role in the rebranded IndyCar Series. Others who failed to make the transition – team owners like Derrick Walker and Gerry Forsythe or drivers such as Paul Tracy and Simon Pagenaud – were high-profile enough to justify my writing about their job losses. But the guys and girls of the Champ Car Safety Team, who were at least as good at their jobs as the aforementioned were at theirs… Who the hell cared?

And so perhaps to assuage the guilt I felt at being unable to validly publicize their plight, I offered to write a letter of recommendation for both Lon and Dave. I wrote just one letter, cut ‘n’ pasted their names accordingly, and thus urged them to not go for the same job…

I apologize for being self referential here, but this extract from said letter sums up my admiration.

Lon stays calm enough to prevent problems becoming crises, and prevent crises becoming disasters. Given his line of work, that ability is critical.

Despite the fact that his utter competence is recognized by all, Lon remains modest and never actively seeks recognition. From his point of view, he is just doing his job, and responds to praise by giving credit to his colleagues – the sign of a real team player.

My complete faith in Lon doing the right thing at the right time in the event of a crisis is doubtless shared by hundreds of people who have encountered him. I can give no more heartfelt endorsement than to say that if my wife and child were in peril, I would want Lon Bromley to be the first person on the scene. And his track record suggests he probably would be.

A couple of years later, and certainly without the need to use my letter, Lon landed the job of safety director at COTA, and I’m ashamed to say that after our email exchanges as I congratulated him, we then fell out of regular contact. Maybe one chance encounter and a couple of phonecalls as Hollander's cancer took over.

It’s not enough. Although it was always easy to pick up with Lon where we’d left off the last time we’d spoken, the fact is that when you value someone’s heart and mind, it’s worth making more of an effort, more often. And so I guess that will be the last thing I learned from Lon Bromley. Alas, too late.

To those who were real friends to LJB, such as Wally Dallenbach, Dr. Steve Olvey, Dr. Chris Pinderski, Dr. Ricky Timms, Sue Denham and that whole clan of Safety Team greats; to Lon’s family; to his colleagues at COTA… You all have my deepest sympathy. Lon was a true salt-of-the-earth human being.

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