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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Taking my flag show on the road

Friday's entry was about my trip to the track and the awkwardness of being at a track without any duties. On Sunday one person said, regarding that, "Yes, Aaron, you looked like a confused zombie".

The cure for zombieitis came Saturday morning as the smell of kart exhaust and the sound of shifter kart engines filled the crisp California morning. All the awkwardness was tossed aside and it was nearing show time.

The moments before the first session of the weekend are always tension filled for me. Is everyone in position? Is the track ready? These questions always pound about in my head before the first session.

Everything and everybody were in position as the day started and I was in paradise. I may have been north of San Fransisco, but I felt as if I were in Las Vegas because of all the familiar faces that I was working with. Nearly everyone on track is also part of the SKUSA crew that works the SuperNats so I knew everyone and we ran a great race. As a side note I must say that the crew assembled for this SKUSA Pro Tour event, along with the SuperNats, has got to be the finest crew to work with!

The day progressed and I was smiling the entire time. It had been five months since the last race I flagged and I was savoring every moment. I don't know if anyone else at the track be it driver, crew, or official enjoys the time at the track as much as I do. I have what is considered to be a thankless job and a job not too many people desire. For me though it is everything. For me, flagging a race is so freeing. It is so intense and requires so much concentration that it is relaxing. I don't understand this, but it is so that's all that I know.

When it came time for the S4 class main event I had a close call as when I started the race several karts got together and spun in my direction. I know I want no part of being in the vicinity of karts out of control so I jumped over the tire wall and avoided being part of the action. When this occurred I though that this was way too close, looking back this wasn't even close compared to what was to come the next day.

Saturday ended and I went back to the hotel just beaming. I was worn out, but I was full of confidence. It is amazing what being in a Kansas environment does. When I worked at a video game store the physical demands were not all that great. The mental demands were even less as there were no close calls, no running, and certainly no chance of being hit at a high rate of speed. Yet, after just a four hour shift, I was very bitter and empty. I was full of anger that wasn't directed at anyone or anything and I was exhausted to the point of not being able to get out of my chair. To contrast that I had a 10 hour day and I ran over five miles and was nearly clobbered by a kart and even though my muscles ached, and my legs throbbed, I was the happiest person on Earth. Moral of that story; Kansas is important.

Sunday morning came all too early. I still may have been the happiest person alive, but my muscles were no sharing the glory of happiness. The stiffness went away as we got to the track on the prospect of another 10 hours of racing bliss.

Even though I call this bliss I am aware of the dangers. To stand next to a racing surface with karts traveling in close proximity to each other at a high rate of speed isn't exactly the safest place to be. I have never been hit except by a kid kart doing 2mph (he was going SO slow that he was able to change his direction with every avoiding move I made. He had target fixation and a laser guided missile would've been proud of his perfect execution of homing in and hitting the flagman).

I laughed about the kid kart incident, but in the back of my mind I've always wondered what would happen if a kart got me at speed. It's this wondering that keeps me on my toes. I would be put to the test in the heat 1 of the Cadet class.

On all rolling starts I am just off center of the track so all the drivers can see me. As the field nears and the race director says "Green" or "no good" I start side-stepping off the track. The faster the field is coming at me the faster I get off the racing surface. This cadet class got on the gas early just as the call was made for the green flag so I started waiving the green while getting off the track at a fast pace. My eyes followed the first three rows by me and then I did something I hadn't done all weekend and that was to look at the back of the field.

My eyes caught one of the karts on the outside column make a bold move to driver's left. This would have been a fantastic move had he not of had a kart to left. He made sudden contact at an acute angle which sent both karts almost straight left. I was almost straight left of them.

The contact came so suddenly and the karts headed my direction so fast that I know I didn't have a chance to think out what to do. The day prior I had enough time to think, "I want to part of this" and I vaulted the barrier. This incident though was sudden and without warning; a flagman's worst nightmare.

I gave a mortal scream much like the time I hit a horse with my car (that story will be in my 2nd book) right as I jumped and dove at the same time. I can't recall anything except that I looked down and saw part of a kart go beneath me. While I was in the air I heard the sickening sound of a kart slamming into the tire wall.

Without planning my jump my landing was not thought out and I landed hard. My right knee slammed into the ground somehow, my left leg twisted under myself, and my back hit flat. I was staring at the sky, in shock and wondering, "Why am I laying in the grass?" Truly that was what I was thinking. It happened so fast that I was perplexed as to what had happened. Then I tried to breathe.

Losing one's breath is not a pleasant experience and about this time I heard over the radio, "One of our guy's is down!" I was wondering who this was and it took a couple ore thoughts to realize that this was me. I turned my head and saw the kart that I had cleared in the air and the nose of his kart was about a foot from my head. I could tell the kid was in some pain by the way he was moving his neck so I tried to get up to make my way back to the finish line (the starting line was about a tenth of a mile from the finish line. This is to put the start line right next to turn one so the speeds are slower on the 1st lap).

My first attempt at getting up resulted in failure as I was still searching for my breath. At this point in time I knew I had to get up or the race would be stopped for me and I did not want that. I'm supposed to flag the action, not be part of it or influence it in any way.

I got up and as the race director got to me and he asked, "are you okay?" I responded with a "yes" not really knowing if I was. I was sore, but I knew I would have been much worse off had I been hit.

I began to limp as the pain of landing wrong began to trickle through my system. At this point in time I heard over the radio that one of the karts needed a rolled black flag (this is a warning for rough driving) so I began to run back to my post not realizing that someone had already manned it.

Once back at my post the adrenaline started to wear off and then my leg let me know it didn't appreciate the landing. The pain wasn't awful, but I had lost some of the strength in it so I no longer made the trek down to the starting line.

I toughed it out and refused to take a rest and the end of the day came not a moment too soon. The thrilling racing seen throughout the day certainly kept me motivated. Each race got better and better and I saw three of the best races races I had ever witnessed so it was all worth it.

I'm sore today and my leg is back to almost normal, but I wish my back would stop spasming. The pain is sharp, but I still have a smile on my face. I wouldn't trade it as that would have meant I wasn't at the track. Being at the track with the flags is everything. There are risks, and close calls, but the rewards are worth it.

Coming home yesterday was rough. I enjoyed the travel aspect of it as I normally do and I once again wished I experience airports more often. With each step I took, and each mile the plane flew, I knew I was leaving that great experience of being on the track.

Each mile though was another mile closer to home. I have two Kansas' now and I'm back in the office writing and I will be at the police academy doing my autism presentation in about two hours. A year ago I would've been depressed for a month after getting home because, in my mind, I would be coming home to nothing.

When I experience total bliss anything short of total bliss is considered nothing. It's bad my mind is this way, but that's the joy of on/off thinking with no middle ground.

Today though there is no depression. In two hours it's show time again. This time it won't be with flags, but rather words and a simple Power Point presentation. Life is great!

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If you'd like to listen to the live call of my near miss you can listen to it at http://www.livestream.com/ekartingnewscomtracksidelive/video?clipId=pla_964cbfa6-92f0-4d92-b022-ece35c9fd6e6 and move the audio to the 1 hour 4 minute 30 second mark and listen. I just listened to it and it's amazing how fast everything actually went when, for me, the entire episode seemed to last for an hour.

Also, if you'd like to read the story of how I got into flagging and how I got my position with SKUSA, you can read my dad's account which was an Autism Speaks In Their Own Words article at http://www.autismspeaks.org/community/ownwords/intheirownwords_likens.php

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