After I wrote my blog at the mall on Friday I headed over to the USAC banquet. This banquet was for all the divisions of USAC from honoring the .25 drivers all the way up through the sprint and silver crown divisions. I have to say that social functions like this are my least favorite thing in the world because there's an hour of socializing before it starts then there's no telling how long it will take.
The hour before the banquet wasn't as bad as the previous year as I now know more people so actually it wasn't that bad. Eventually it was time for the program to begin and the first order of business was for the .25 champions to be honored.
As each driver took the stage I laughed to myself because it was obvious the majority of them didn't really want to be on a stage in front of 400 or so people. Winning races? That's easy, but being on stage and being asked a question? Yeah, that's the hard part.
However nervous the champions were they did a great job and as they exited the stage I felt my phone vibrate and it was an e-mail so I took out my phone as the emcee started speaking on something that I wasn't fully paying attention to because I was focused in on my phone so what I heard next was something like this, "----- ----- ----- ---- --- -------- ------ ------ ------ goes----- ---- Aaron Likens" Say what?
I looked around my table with a look of confusion. I heard my name but didn't know why. I looked to the video screen and it said, "Spirit of Youth Award." The emcee, Speed Channel's Jim Tretow, then said, "Would Aaron Likens please come up to the stage to receive this award." Remember that bit where I thought that it was kind of humorous to watch the drivers squirm on stage because they didn't really want to be in front of 400 people? Yeah, flagging races? Easy, being on stage accepting an award? Not so much.
As I walked from the back of the room to the front I now knew why Kyle, the USAC .25 series director, said, "It's going to be a big night for you." I asked why after that and he was rather evasive with his answers so as I walked to the stage I was thinking, "That Kyle got me good!" Also, I was thinking I could just grab my award and leave. Those hopes were dashed as I shook Jim's hand and he said, "Say a few words."
At this point in time I am thankful beyond any level you could probably understand that I am a public speaker. Had this been four years ago I would have locked up and it would have been the worst display of public speaking ever seen. It probably would have gone something like this, "Well, I uh, um, you know, um, I really,well, really, um, thanks." Instead of the disaster I approached the mic and said something along the lines of, "Oh, wow, I wasn't expecting this at all. This is a big honor but for me the real honor is being able to travel with this series as the flagman watching the future stars of motorsports having the best seat in the house, most of the time. Again, thank you for this honor." There might have been a few extra lines in that sentence I spoke but I don't really remember the whole thing because I was so confused as how I went from responding to an e-mail to being up on stage.
The rest of the night was a typical racing banquet, but this story will continue tomorrow as I quickly found out that giving my unexpected speech was nothing compared to the journey of getting to my car.