It may be Monday, but I still have the same grin on my face as I had during the weekend. It was amazing!
Friday afternoon I left Saint Louis to head to Columbus, Ohio to flag the USAC .25 Midget race. The drive to Columbus was long as my upcoming panel I am on with Temple Grandin at the USAAA world conference dominated my thinking. It would not be a lie if I said it was the only thing I thought about.
By the time I got in Indianapolis (about halfway to Columbus) I was exhausted from the internal run-around my mind was doing. I kept trying to decide what I will say, but nothing felt right and traffic was dense so nothing positive came from my continuous debate on what to say.
As the Indiana/Ohio border neared I got hungry so I left the interstate and got off in Richmond. Unbeknownst to me as I neared the Wendy's, I would, as I was eating, realize that this was the exit I had my 2nd ever book signing at back in April 2009. I really wanted to drive the extra mile to visit the Hastings store, but the road was under construction and traffic was snarled up so I didn't go, but it was a fresh reminder of just how far I have come, in regards to confidence, since that book signing.
I got to Columbus and found my way to the track where set up was underway. I breathed two sighs of relief as I made it there because 1. I stopped thinking about what to say on that panel and 2. I was back at a USAC event.
Worrying is something I am good at and ever since that one bobble at Indy during the Battle at the Brickyard (http://lifeontheothersideofthewall.blogspot.com/2010/07/day-5-seemingly-unavoidable-hurdles.html) I was worried I would never be working at a USAC ever again. I'm glad I was wrong!
It may have only been my 2nd event, but arriving at the track and being with the other staff felt natural to me. I know I have said this a lot, but having confidence is vital and I had it. In any new situation I am going to be quiet, shy, timid, and probably a little frightened. But, should I survive the first situation I will start building confidence up. Sometimes this is fast, sometimes this is slow, perhaps painfully slow, but with each time my movements become more natural and all the small things that set me back will slowly become transparent.
Because this was a race track and the USAC staff and organization are top notch the transition time was just one event. I was at home, or rather Kansas for those that know that meaning, and it may have been Friday night but I was already counting down the minutes until Saturday morning when racing would take place.
Sleep came easy as I was exhausted from all my internal debate and the morning came and I was anxious to go. All the worries I had in July about race procedure and the like were gone. I knew the program, I knew what was expected of me, I knew the lingo and I was ready to go. From the start of practice I was comfortable and confident and having just an amazing time.
Saturday on the .25 track went by quickly and Saturday night started. Columbus Motor Speedway has the .25 track as well at the big track on the grounds. Saturday night the USAC National Midget Series was in action as well as the Midwest Ford Focus Midget series and the Focus Young Guns series. The guy who hired me for the .25 race told me that I might be doing some flagging that night, but he left the .25 track before I had a chance to catch up with him so I was in a fog as to what to do.
5PM and came I rolled my flags up, put them in my bag, and walked to my car. I could see the big USAC semi-truck so I walked in that direction hoping I would see the person who would give me direction. Cars were already practicing on the big track so he was up in the tower talking to the drivers on track via a one-way radio.
I had many options I could do but didn't know what the right one was. I could ask any of the staff around the trailer, I could use a radio, or I could try a text message on my phone. Ten minutes of debate happened as I stood in the trailer with a look that stressed just how lost I was. I did crack a smile when I realized that most people probably don't get into these situations of not knowing what to do. Well, perhaps they do, but they then know how to get out of it. Myself, in this situation, had no confidence because I had never been in this situation at this track.
Did you see what happened here? I went from knowing everything at the .25 track, to an environment where I didn't know the unspoken rules and protocols and was instantly set back. In my presentations I state that "Kansas" is that place that I feel the most comfortable and am not paralyzed. However, if I take one step, just one tiny step, out of Kansas and I do become paralyzed. This was one of those tiny steps.
So I continued to worry about what to do and I had the text already written, but I didn't know if he'd be angry if I sent it.
A car spun and the yellow came out in a practice session so I quickly grabbed my phone and sent the text. Would he read it seeing he was busy? I agonized and within seconds I had a response, "grab a radio and go to the flag stand". If you've seen happiness before you may need to reset your criteria because I was beaming with happiness.
I already had a radio and in no time at all I walked past the grandstands and up to the flag stand where Tom Hansing was presiding over the track.
It was great to be back in the flag stand with Tom as it brought back all the happy emotions that you may have read about on here during the end of the month of May when I first made it to the flag stand. Tonight though I would have one division that I would be the flagman for and as happy as I was I was also nervous. Well, I'll admit I was terrified.
In just minutes my division was on track and Tom said, "It's all yours" and I took the position next to the light switches and held my breath. It was like starting over again. 15 years experience and it was like my first time. I wanted to panic, but didn't and I heard over the radio, "Okay Aaron, wind them up" and with that I changed the track lights from yellow to green and waived the green flag., That moment has to be one of my proudest moments ever.
At the end of the session I waived the checkered and then turned on the yellow lights. All cars passed me and I was so ecstatic that I didn't screw up that I, well, screwed up in a way. The yellow flag is supposed to be displayed so if any of the drivers forgot what was going on they would get the picture, but I was already switching places with Tom and didn't display it. Rookie mistake that I won't make again.
The night progressed and all the timidness and fearfulness I had assisting Tom in Indy were gone. Like clockwork the flags went from my hands to his, then his hands to mine and being part of a team is something I typically am not good at (see April's http://lifeontheothersideofthewall.blogspot.com/2010/04/lets-go-me-oops-i-mean-lets-go-team.html) but this felt natural.
My division's feature came up and it was time for me to go back into the flagging position. The nerves struck once again as I thought about how to use the lights (i.e. is green up? or is yellow up on the switch?) and all the other facets of the job that need to be done perfectly.
As the field entered the backstretch Tom told me, "This is going to be a flying start" and he was right as the field was full throttle way before the point where they are supposed to start. I displayed the green as dull as could be and then went yellow so the start could be done properly. I survived my first waived off start.
After a stern warning the next start was perfect and the race went by quickly as there were no yellow flags and before I knew it the race was over. We got the trophies down to the track and as soon as the cars rolled towards the exit gate Tom and I were done.
Saturday was an amazing day as I was working non-stop from 8:30AM to 9:45PM minus the fifteen minutes I worried about what to do.
As easy as sleep came the night before I was out instantly as I had another full day of racing to work on Sunday as the A-mains of the .25 series had to be run.
I had help on Sunday as Tom stayed in Columbus to help out at the event so I suggested that we simply alternate races and that's what we did. How cool is that though? To other people this probably would be nothing, but racing is everything to me and here I am trading races with one of the IZOD IndyCar series starters.
I knew how awesome this was for me and I had a thought; I told myself that I would write a really long blog post so years from now I can relive it, but secondly I told myself that there's probably many people that would love to do what I was doing and that I need to cherish every second of it. That means every second then, and every future event I do. Not that I won't of course, but I realized just how special that job is.
The racing action was great throughout the day and as mid afternoon came no more cars were lining up in the staging area and the last event finished. It was over. Typically I'd be sad, but the best part of this story? I get to do it all again next weekend at the .25 race at Eldora Speedway! I can't wait!