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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Going Back to School... And I'm Nervous

I've got a full day of presentations coming up and I'm closing in on five complete years of being a presenter but today's presentation has me nervous. I don't typically get nervous but this is an unique set of circumstances as I'm going back to the schools in Nevada, Missouri.

What do I mean with, "going back?" This wonderful photo to the side was taken last September when I was at the schools there but I was such a hit that I got invited back. And that's the thing; I'm going back.

My school presentation, if you haven't seen it, is only about 25 minutes long and the rest of the time is open for questions. That being said I also have to say that it actually makes me nervous for people to see me a second time. I don't know why that is and I've had several parents come to five or more presentations. I do have to add that, if you have been to a presentation before, please don't let this comment stop you from coming. This issue I have is with myself as I have always hated to repeat myself and today I'll be repeating myself twice. Sure, more students have come to the school and students have moved up, but the majority will have already heard me.

How long have I been fearing this? I've known about this since April but I did get a boost of morale a few weeks ago when I presented at Parkway West Middle School in the Saint Louis area and a bunch of students had seen me present at Mason Ridge Elementary just several months prior. This brought about a sense of dread going in but the questions segment students asked about stories that were omitted, or asked questions to get to the stories that can only be given if the right question is asked. Afterwards there was no sense of, "Oh, why did we set through this again" as I fear. Oh, yeah, that's my fear. My greatest fear is to bore the audience and if someone has heard me once I am sure I will bore them the next time. That's just the way my brain works. Perhaps this is because if I've watched something once it's hard to watch again (unless it's stupendously amazing) therefore I know/assume everyone else operates under the same system.

I guess it's good to be knocked out of my comfort zone every once in a while. Now, next time I am out of my comfort zone please don't say I said it was a good thing, but on my way down to the area yesterday I thought of different ways, or different stories I could use in my presentation to speak the same points but with different stories to further the understanding. I'll see how that works out, but today also is a big day as I will exceed 10,000 people spoken to in the calendar year of 2014 so even though I'm nervous there is a small part of me with a slight smile as another milestone year has been achieved.
 
 
 
 

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Season's End, Then and Now

I originally came up with this blog post idea on Sunday, October 5th in the morning during the USAC .25 race I was working but the incident that found its way to me changed my writing schedule. That being said I originally wanted to write this on the plane ride home which would have made the format awesome, but hopefully I can still make this worthwhile...

It's the final weekend of my race season, 2005, and I'm at a loss. The only thing that has kept me going this year has been these 11 events at I-55 raceway with the Saint Louis Karting Association. It hasn't been the best of years for myself. I'm jobless, have had more misadventures than I care to recount, and the future is bleak.

I sit here in my office now awaiting the final race weekend of 2014. What a season it has been! I haven't just flagged one series in completetion but two! The USAC .25 schedule wrapped up two Sundays ago and the SKUSA Pro Tour will wrap up with the biggest event I work all year next month.

As the sun sets and the final checkered flag flies on the SLKA season I feel a sense of dread. For me, I feel as if this is the last race I will ever flag. With club elections how can I guarantee that my services will be required next season? After all, everyone is replaceable. I surely hope this wasn't my last race.

Today I look forward. Where will next season take me? Sure, this season isn't quite over yet, but there's the thrill of what next season will bring. Where will the events be? Will the Blue Wave be bigger in April? Can I come up with an excuse to introduce yet another new flag to my arsenal of flags?

I can't let this day end. I truly can't. I take my time rolling my flags up and making the walk from the finish line to the pits. To make this day last longer I decide to do something I haven't done all season, or ever actually. I decide to hang around and talk. I feel very much out of place and it shows. Socializing is not my thing, at all, and the EMT I think notices this and he asks if I want to help do a little clean up and then park the golf carts in the garage. I agree.

This has been my 20th season of being in the flag business and each event I do now I cherish. At the end of each event, as I roll my flags up, I have a feeling I think an artist would have after finishing a work of art, or a conductor of an orchestra after a perfect production. Unlike a decade ago I don't have the fear of socializing after an event. It's been an odd progression, but I know if it weren't for becoming the SKUSA flagman in 2008 and the USAC .25 flagman in 2010 that I wouldn't have 10% of the socializing skills I have and I would be nowhere near the presenter I am today.

The sun is now beyond the horizon as the EMT and I finishing up cleaning the grounds and the realization that this is it; the season is now over. There will be no "next race" and nothing to look forward to. I feel as if this is it; this is the end of everything I've loved. I park the golf cart in the grid area to soak in the final moments of what has been an amazing run, now my 10th year of flagging, but this is it. It's over. The final trailers are pulling out and the headlights of the cars which had been leaving have left which the few lights were there are gone making the place pitch black dark. A perfect description for how I feel.

I still fear that each race I do will be my last race. Stuff can happen and who knows, I may smash my hand with a bowling ball or, well, things can happen and I worry that, with leaving each track I do doing a year, I fear that this was it. Even after 20 seasons I still feel the rush, and childlike giddiness, when I arrive to a track. Maybe when I don't feel this it's time to retire from flagging, but I still do and with each year it seems to get stronger.

It's time now. I drive the golf cart towards the garage on the far side of the property and there's maybe just a handful of people left whereas just hours prior there were over 120 drivers and countless more spectators, crews, parents, and workers. It's rather cold know which has made the tears all the more bitter. I walk slowly to my car knowing for certain that this will be my last footsteps on the grounds of a race track ever. And why shouldn't I feel this? Everything in my life has fallen apart and just over a year ago I got this diagnosis of Asperger's which all but eliminates me from ever having anything remotely considered a life so I'm sure that losing the SLKA flagging job will just continue the streak of unfortunate things that will happen to me. After those thoughts I get into my car, close the door, start the engine, and leave the only place that has made me happy for the entire year of 2005.

What a difference nine years can make, right? In 2005 I was hopeless and flagging was the only thing I had outside of the random writing that I was doing but I was sure that wasn't going to lead to anything. Oddly, it was those writings that became my book Finding Kansas and even though I was in the worst emotional crisis of my life the seeds of hope were being planted even though I was oblivious to it. As it would turn out, I would be invited to flag in 2006 and not only that, in one of the biggest events that shaped who I would become, I got elected as race director AND also because flagger/race director of a regional series AND I became the writer of the press releases and race recaps.

This was an easy blog to write, in terms of writing as if it were 2005 because I relive that night frequently. It's hard to explain, unless you've felt it, what losing something you have enjoyed doing your entire life. That's where I was in 2005 and it was partly the flagging but also the fact that EVERYTHING in my life had fallen apart. I don't know what I would've done if I didn't have the 11 weekends spread out across 2005, but the feelings of that day still resonate to this day and fuels what I'm doing both with flagging and presenting. I find it so odd that I went from feeling hopeless and proclaiming to all the people I didn't know that life was hopeless and now I'm out in the world proclaiming that there is always hope. Life has so many twists and unique turns, but on the ride home I thought about how awful the future was going to be. I don't like admitting I'm wrong (because I'm never wrong) but that evening I was and any other time I thought all was lost I was wrong and thank goodness I was!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

3 Years...

Today is a sad day as it was three years ago today Dan Wheldon's life came to a premature end in a race in Las Vegas. I was there that day and the images are something I wish I could forget. I think back to that day a lot; not by choice but when one sees something like that it's hard to forget. It's somewhat harder this year, for me, because of the timing of a presentation.

First, I didn't know Dan, I never talked to Dan, and the only communication I ever had with him was through my flags at the SKUSA Supernats in 2008, 2009, and 2010 so I can't imagine how hard it is for people that actually knew him. That being said, anniversaries like this are hard for me regardless how well I knew a person because of my associative memory system and last night I presented at the Special School District which was my last presentation and last thing I did in Saint Louis before Rob, my friend from Vancouver, and I hit the road to Las Vegas.

I've presented at SSD each year since I began and each year since 2011, when the presentation is over and I head out to my car, I can recall the thrilling excitement of the drive at hand. It was 9PM and Rob and I had to be in Vegas within 34 hours which meant no hotel a straight drive. I took the first leg which was to Kansas City then I, knowing Kansas all too well, went to sleep and let him tackle the vast expanse of blandness that is I-70 through Kansas. He still reminds me of this to this day that he certainly got the short end of the stick on that one. It was a thrilling experience I think a lot of twentysomethings, or those in college, have an experience like that and as we left on that night in 2011 it was as if I were doing something completely normal and I felt alive.

Along the way I even filmed a video blog



The reason we had to rush to Vegas was that I was working a USAC .25 race on a track outside the big oval at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This also brought back memories back then because it was October of 2003 that I was instructing at the racing school of the Derek Daly Academy. So this whole trip was a voyage, a pilgrimage of sorts and again, I felt so very, very alive. Then Sunday, the 16th happened.

It's one thing to witness something from afar, or on television and have the, "oh my, that's not good" feeling but to be there from start to end from the moment I knew there was going to be trouble (I knew about 2 seconds before the first contact was made) from the time the last car crashing comes to a stop, from the moment the red flags is displayed, from when the medical chopper took off is a different experience. It's one that has stayed with me and for about a full year it was something I had a difficult time talking about. Time has somewhat lessened that outside of the timing of this year.

Last night I was up until 4AM trying to go to sleep but I couldn't. I relived each mile of the roadtrip, each conversation I had with the USAC group, the great racing at the .25 track (see photo on right. Three wide finishes aren't common and that was spectacular!) and the lead up to that fateful race day.

Again, as I began, I'm writing from my perspective and I know family and close friends have to have today be much worse than how I feel. I don't want to write a blog that is a, "woe is me" because I was just a witness to the event. That being said I do want to have a point to this blog and it is to explain the way the Asperger mind can work. Remember, if you've met one person with autism you've only met one person so this may or may not be true for the next person, but the brain, well, my brain being so visual can replay events over and over... and over again. That being said it is hard to move on from things because memories are always fresh as if it just happened. Before I was diagnosed I can recall instances where people would tell me, "Aaron, it's been so long, just get over it!" While time may have actually been passed for myself it was as if it had just happened. And that's where I am today.

While struggling with this last night I went to YouTube to not relive the events of October 16th, but to relive the final lap of the Indy 500 of 2011 which Wheldon won in the most unexpected of ways. I think in 100 years this finish will still be talked about and that's the way I'm trying to battle the memories of the road trip, sleeping through Kansas, stopping on the side of the road (which I am deathly afraid of) to film a video blog, from the time spent with my USAC friends, to flagging the great .25 race, from our hotel room, and the drive to the Speedway Sunday morning. I want to forget it all. I'm not alone on that, I know. Today is a bitter day for anyone in the open wheel community and is a day many would like to forget. For all those that were there, each of us have a story. This is mine as a witness from afar.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Island Problem

I'm sure at some point in time I've made a metaphor or two involving an island and, once again, I'm coming up with yet another island metaphor. It's going to get difficult to remember all these islands I'm creating...

In the midst of this period of feeling down I've done a lot thinking, too much probably, but I've noticed an unique pattern that I can only explain using an island as an example. I don't know about others with Asperger's, but for myself I feel like I'm on an island. I used to say a deserted island but I have come to learn that this island actually has two bridges connected to two mainlands. These two mainlands represent two different worlds. On the bridge leading to the right we have normal. Now remember I don't believe anyone is normal, however wanting to be more normal is something I feel and there is an illusion of normal all of which are on that island. As we turn to the left and see that bridge it leads to a place that is rather uninhabited. It's a place that often times I feel I want to be and herein lies the problem; both mainlands don't feel right and I spend my time on the island in the middle always thinking that the place I came from isn't as good as what lies on the other side of the bridge.

This island in the middle is a place of deep thought. When I spend too much time in the land of normal I get tired with the constant conversing, socializing, and random encounters so I look across the sea and think back to the mainland that is empty and yearn for it. I mean, how great is it to go through life without interactions? When I've spent too much time on the land of normal this is how I feel.

When I get frazzled from normal, or not fitting in within the land of normal, I make the trek across the bridge and get to the island where I quickly cross the second bridge to the land of emptiness where I am sure I will find happiness. Each time though the happiness is fleeting and I look back across the bridges which I came and think about how great it would be to be a part of the land of normal.

After a while this journey across the bridges gets tiring and this island in the middle feels like home. I'm not on either land and yet I'm a part of both. It becomes difficult to decide if staying on the island is the surest bet or if I want to venture out into the world of normal. When I think about how great the land of emptiness would be I think about how much I would have missed had I stayed there. I certainly wouldn't be presenting, I wouldn't have met such wonderful people within the SKUSA and USAC series, and my life wouldn't extend much outside the walls of my house. However, when I get exhausted, when life gets overwhelming, or when a major social disaster happens I think about how safe the other place would be. Hence why there is this island problem and staying on the island often times isn't so much a choice rather a necessity.

This metaphor has been made in so many different ways, but as I was thinking last night about a new way to present it I came up with this and I could visually see this island in the middle and it felt perfect and writing this, and I hope I did a good job of writing it because it sure made sense as I thought about it, has just confirmed just how apt this is. For others I'm sure it is different but for myself this is the best way I can describe to you the feelings that go through my body and how I see the way my life is.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The October Blues

This post builds on what I wrote on yesterday and maybe yesterday's post is contributing to the way I feel today, but the only word I have to describe how I feel today is miserable.

Is this exhaustion? Maybe. Is it frustration? Maybe. Is it the change in seasons? Perhaps as I look back on previous years and it seems there's always this type of post in the October/November time frame. Whatever it is I hope it passes soon.

The way I am feeling now is making everything seem impossible and when this happens it is easy to forget who I am. If taken literally that would mean I have amnesia, but I mean this in the sense that I don't have the ability to see who I am, what I've done, and the accomplisments I've had. All that is lost in this tempest of negative emotions which leads me to see who I am not, what I haven't done, and what I will never do.

Perhaps everyone feels this from time-to-time and perhaps Asperger's amplifies this. I'm not everyone so I can only describe this feeling from my point of view. From my point of view, though, this is awful. The aspects of life this has an impact on seems to be all. Sleep is difficult to obtain which when I am asleep waking up is hard to do. Daily activities are hard to get motivated to do and there is this dense fog in my thoughts and all the while, in the back of my mind, are these thoughts of not who I am but of who I am not.

I've used many metaphors to explain this such as "The Slow Moving Pendulum" in which I described this feeling as a pendulum that, when it reaches a certain window of its path, I feel like this. Then, when the pendulum swings out of that window all returns to normal. There have been others that I can't recall right now, but I'm always amazed at how severe these feelings are when the pendulum is in that window.

There are times I forget where I was five+ years ago. The way I feel right now, with the tenseness and anxiety, was an everyday event with no respite. Feeling this now is a reminder of those days and is a loud reminder of why I do what I do as a career and calling. Life is hard, yes, but without understanding life is much more difficult and the way I feel today was the way I felt everyday all those years ago because there was no understanding. Now, when I say understanding, this is a multi-tiered thing because it just wasn't society in general I'm talking about but understanding within myself. When I would feel bad I'd feel bad about feeling bad which just through more gasoline on an already intense blaze. I didn't understand that this, for me, is just a natural phase much like a storm passing and I can either try to weather the storm outside resisting all of it's ways or I can accept it and wait for it to pass. Getting upset about feeling down just makes things worse. Also, every bit of my great chapters and concepts have come when feeling this way so actually, in a way, feeling like this has led me to do what I do.

How long will this last? I'm not sure but in the meantime I've got to just stay strong and keep moving forward the best I can. I know presentations don't suffer when I feel like this; actually, I think I present better when feeling like this because it allows me to speak closer to the heart than others. Not to say that I don't speak from the heart when I'm feeling good, but when I reference stories of how I used to feel the emotions are more raw because I'm not talking about how I felt rather I'm speaking about how I feel. That being said I am looking forward to my annual presentation at SSD here in Saint Louis tomorrow night. Until then I'll continue to weather this storm the best I can.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Out of Reach Goal

I have a goal right now that I have little to no control in whether or not it happens and having this looming over me is, well, it isn't doing good things. I'm not sure why I am so dedicated to this, but I am and I have no sway on telling myself it doesn't matter. The fact is it does and the effects it's having on me is not good.

The first is that my issues with sleep are back with a fury. The two seem to go together. Actually, if there is any issue invoking emotions I can almost say for certain that sleep issues will be a part of it.

Secondly is a strong sense of anxiety. How strong? I haven't ridden too many roller coasters but that sensation of coming over a slow crest into a long downhill section that creates a dropping of the stomach sensation is about the best way I can relate to you what it feels like.

Because of these two issues things start to spiral into things that seem bigger than they are. The ability to hyper focus the way I do is an amazing strength, but when there becomes a problem I can't solve my brain does not relinquish the full speed thought on the problem. It's rough, it really is, to have a brain that needs to solve every problem thrown my way and yet, when an unsolvable problem arises, my brain won't slow down when it can't fix the issue.

There are many side effects from this. I mentioned sleep issues which means a sense of tiredness comes with it. Being tired then probably compounds the sense of fearing nothing will change and the problem will remain forever. When I say compound I mean my frustration towards that expands outward to things that have nothing to do with the matter at hand all of a sudden seem more difficult or impossible.

Thinking back to other events in my life these things normally run their course. Perhaps it's because I''m coming off of five weeks straight of being on the go, but whatever it is I hope its course runs quickly because this feeling of anxiety is too strong for my liking.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

My 1,100th Post: The "Autism Is..." Project

As with my 400th, 500th, 600th, 700th, 800th, 900th and now 1,100th post I am running the "Autism Is..." project. I still can't believe how strong this project has gone. Whether you want to add your own, or read other the numerous responses, I'm honored that so many people have taken part. And I would also like to thank all my readers and followers for the continued support. Knowing that so many people want all the info they can get is such an inspiration!

I did this once and I wanted to run this again. For today I want you contribute. This is a simple task and all I want you to do is finish the line, "Autism is..." I want as many answers as possible. If you've contributed before feel free to do so again.

Autism is still a gigantic mystery to most people outside of the spectrum and I want as many comments as possible. This truly is a spectrum disorder and no single voice can cover the whole spectrum. So, autism is...? There are no right answers, or wrong answers. Use one word, use as many words as the comment form below will allow (4096 letters). The only thing I ask is that we keep this positive and if you want you can mention if you are a parent, on the spectrum, professional, or have no ties to the spectrum. You also have many options as you can post your name, or do it anonymously.

So now it's your turn, "Autism is..."

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Revisiting a Scary Situation

I'm in Springfield today and am staying at the place this story occurred. It's been over two years, but this event is ever in my mind. The following originally ran on February 17, 2012:

Recently I was in a town for a presentation and I was staying at a hotel. It was a little past 10:30 p.m. and I got hungry so I decided to go to a gas station to get some snacks. As I left the lobby of the hotel I noticed just how junky the weather was; there was a fine mist in the air with a dense, soupy fog in the air. I almost walked back inside because, after all, if I were making a horror film this would be the weather I would have in it.

As I neared my car I saw two people walking down the sidewalk. I calculated in my mind that I and them would get to where my car was parked at nearly the same time. I am usually extra cautious to avoid people because and even more so in this weather because of my horror film concept, but on this night I didn't turn back around and go to my car.

When I got to my car I heard someone say, "Sir, excuse me..." and I instantly froze. Panic ensued and I was sure I was about to be robbed or worse. The lady continued, "my mother and I need to get to Wal-Mart before they close and we've been walking for two hours. Could you drive us there? We'll pay for your gas."

If I were panicking before I was now at Defcon 1. I stood there, staring off into space, processing; I was trying to think of a way I could say no and not seem like a jerk. I wanted to say, "I'm sorry, I am too afraid." or maybe "I would if it is daylight" but I didn't know how to put that into words. I then thought of all the stories I've heard of people on the spectrum being taken advantage of simply because we can have a hard time simply saying "no."

In my presentations to police I mention a story of a 16 year old with Asperger's lost in a park. The police were called and when they got to him they asked him his name and he said nothing. They asked him who his parents were and still nothing. He resisted any and all comments and essentially became a statue. Eventually the parents were brought to him and his mom, right away, asked, "Son, why didn't you help the officers?" The son replied, "But mom, why are you mad? You always told me not to talk to strangers." That story was going through my mind at this point in time as I continued to stand there trying to come up with some way out of this corner and I wish I had that 16 yearold's resolve.

I started to shake a little bit and I decided that, if these two were robbers I was going to be robbed whether or not I got into my car with them so, with a highly remorseful voice, as if I were signing my own death sentence, I said, "Okay, get into the car."

I've done some dangerous stuff in my life; I've covered a couple hurricanes, been to Africa three times, and I raced for a decade but this I thought as I headed towards Wal-Mart that this very well could've been the most reckless thing I've ever done.

The fog seemed thicker and as I pulled out of the hotel parking lot I noticed my two passengers had not put on their seat belts. I just about spoke up, but I wanted to say as little as possible. The younger one, in the back, asked lots of questions and to each one I said just enough not to give anything about myself away.

Of course, as we got to the first light, it was red. I reflected on my life and thought about how I got into this situation. It happened so fast and since I have a hard time saying no as well as having a hard time processing on the fly I truly was cornered into this.

So many times I've heard parents tell me that their son or daughter got caught up with the bad crowd on a whim and they couldn't understand how they got swept up in the ordeal. I would respond with an answer of some sort, and it was the right one, but now I know just how easy it is to fall into a trap and be in a corner.

The following lights were green and when we got to Wal-Mart the daughter offered to stay and when the mother got a refund they would pay me gas money. I declined saying, "it was less than a mile, don't worry about it." and they both thanked me saying how wonderful I was and out they went and off I went.

Obviously I survived and obviously nothing went wrong, but it could have. I got lucky. If anything this is a major wake-up call because "no" needs to be in my vocabulary. I may be an autism advocate but I am a horrible advocate for myself. However, this just adds to the things I can speak on from first-hand experience. I've always heard people on the spectrum are very much more likely to be a victim than others. I now know why and I know now that "no" is very quickly going to be used more. Yes, it was probably a very nice thing I did for those two people, but I don't know if it was the safest. Yes, they needed a ride, but on a foggy night is it the safest thing to do? Even if it weren't foggy the answer is no and I hate to say that the world is dangerous, but if one doesn't know a person can they be trusted? Sadly, the world we live in has shown that the answer isn't 100% yes and all it takes is that one time. Thankfully, on that night, it wasn't that one time.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

"Keep Smiling Mr. Aaron"

So it happened again...

This past weekend I was flagging a race when an incident found its way into the wall under the flagstand which the stand is connected to the wall and physics kicked in and I went straight down onto my knee. Actually, this was the 2nd race of the day and in both races an incident found its way to me, but the 2nd hit did a number on my knee and the trackside medical staff highly urged me to get it looked at. I did, the X-ray came back negative, but the doc said I certainly took a knock on it and advised me to stay off of it which meant I was done for the day.

Back at the track I sat in the vehicle with a brace on my right leg and my usefulness was nil. The track flagman had taken over for me and as the day progressed I learned it is a very bitter thing to watch someone else do my job. This started a line of thoughts that, well, I was becoming bitter. What was the point to all this? I go back to the blog in which I talked about my love of flagging and the reasons I do it, but now I was wondering what was the worth. If I don't fulfill my dream and make it to the top what good is this all? Needless to say I was not in the best of places emotionally.

As my thoughts dove downwards an interesting thing happened. The first of many people stopped by to see how I was doing. I had been hiding in the car, but it was getting hot so I opened the door and the first of many conversations began. The first was short, but then a couple drivers talked to me for 15 minutes, then another two drivers talked to me for another 15 minutes. One driver told me, "I just don't want you to be lonely."

The conversations continued and these drivers asked me what my real job was, asked what Asperger's was, asked if I had ever flagged internationally, what my favorite track was, how difficult it is to flag, and a whole host of other questions. Mind you, when I say drivers this is a kids series and yet there was a maturity to these questions that it was as if I were having a conversation with a coworker at the office, or a long-time friend. Then it hit me; for the most part I have zero interactions with the drivers except with a colored flag in my hand. All the drivers know me and yet I don't really know any of the drivers and yet, despite my not knowing, there's a respect that these drivers have for me and between conversations I was moved to tears by the sincerity of it all.

Perhaps this is in line with my presentations I do at schools, but the honesty and genuineness of kids that I have come across has amazed me and I was once again amazed at the way the kids asked questions of me at the track. Now don't get me wrong, it wasn't all drivers as many parents and mechanics came up to see how I was doing.

There was a moment above all others though that I will remember forever and squashed any thoughts I had of, "Why am I doing this again?" As we were about to leave another driver came up and he gave me an envelope that was address to me, well, "Mr. Aaron" and inside was a hand drawn "feel better" card with a drawing of a car crossing the line with me in the flagstand. I saw it and I gave the biggest smile and the kid said, "Keep Smiling Mr. Aaron! Keep smiling just like that!" and he walked off and I had to fight back tears because I was so moved at how amazing this moment was.

When the next race comes around I'll be back at it, fearless, because it isn't about making it to the top of the flagging world. In fact, it isn't about me at all. I may be invisible minus the colored flags I display, but it's all for those on the track. I may not have known most of the drivers, but they knew me and my dedication to be the best has never been stronger. I've always strove for perfection, don't get me wrong, but somehow it all means more now. Besides, I don't know if I've ever been given better advice than the lasting memory I have of the weekend. So the next time it's a long day, or things aren't going smoothly, I'm going to think back to the time that I watched someone else do my job for six hours and recollect being told, "Keep smiling Mr. Aaron." That, right there, is why I do what I do.