Yesterday I wrote my blog while eating breakfast at Steak n Shake before the start of the day's activities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I wrote that I would elaborate on the differences between three years ago and today, but those thoughts quickly changed just 10 minutes into practice once I got to the crash.
The moments before practice began were rather picturesque but then, for the 3rd time in 17 months, I was involved in a crash that found its way to the stand I was in. Once again it was just a fluke deal, however the impact, as with the other two, was severe and knocked me forward and I almost came out of the stand before recoiling backwards and landing awkwardly on my side. Thankfully, unlike the other two incidents, this didn't require a trip to the hospital. However, trackside medical staff did check me over, and asked a bunch of questions to check for a concussion, but I was right back up on my feet. This is Indy and I wasn't going to let a little side pain get in my way, or so I thought as about 25 minutes later my muscles under my ribcage were letting me know just how hard of a shot I took so I came off the stand and went to the office. This was one of the worst walks I have even taken because, after all, this is Indy; there are no more hallowed grounds in motorsport and I get the honor of being the flagman for this USAC .25 event but my side was hurting just a little too much for me to be able to do my job as ably as is required.
After the Advil kicked in and I had a meeting with an ice pack for about 30 minutes I was back on the stand, sore, but once I had my flags flying I felt somewhat invincible (minus the time I dropped a water bottle and bent down to pick it up.) An hour or so later a thunderstorm came through and ended the day early, but I will be back in the stand tomorrow although I am not looking forward to waking up in the morning.
So the question is, why do I do this? Why do I put myself in the line of fire to display colorful flags? The answer is more than just the fact that auto racing has been my deepest passion for my entire life. The answer is more than just the fact that I have always had a dream of flagging at Indianapolis (remember, that dream came somewhat true back in May when I started a day of practice for the Indy 500) The reason I flag is well, for one I love it, but also the fact that it has allowed me to be the person I am today.
3 years ago I worked my first USAC .25 race and it was right here in Indianapolis. I think back to the flagger, person, and presenter I was back then and I don't think there is much comparison minus my style with the flags. Except for the style I was nothing compared to who I am today. A fellow USAC worker asked me three weeks ago, "Aaron, has much has flagging with USAC helped you as a person?" and I told him something along the lines that the impact is so profound that it is hard to put into words.
That first race three years ago I was timid and would not make any decision. A big part of my job is to start the race after a caution period and I do that by displaying a rolled up green flag. Three years ago I never made one call on this and I would never ask when or rather how close we were to this occurring (i.e. the track has to be cleaned and the cars need to be in the right order.) I was highly timid and had little to no confidence. This is a great parallel to how I presented as well. I had only done about 50 presentations when I began with USAC and yes, the information I gave was great, but there was no confidence in my voice, posture, or anything by that manner.
Over the months, then the year and following year I worked more and more events and I no longer had to be coached on every movement. I began to direct the flow and inquire if the lineup was good. That may not seem like much, but I've never been good at asking questions (of that kind. I was always good at asking "what if..." questions as a child. Still am actually) but I started feeling confident in more than just my ability to make the flags not just be displayed but flow with style.
It's now been, as mentioned, three years since my first USAC race and while I had flagged, and directed many races prior, it wasn't to the amount that I've done with USAC. I'll be honest and not leave out SKUSA as working their national events has been huge for me as well, but it's within all these events that I have grown as a person. Confidence is something I have always lacked, but when I'm up on a stand and interacting with drivers, handlers, parents, and fellow staff members I feel confident.
Several people have suggested that I quit flagging as, "oh you're out of town so much" or, "oh, you're always getting hurt it seems" but who would I be without it? I am 100% confident I am the speaker I am today, and the autism ambassador I am today because of the confidence flagging gives me. To be able to do a job that requires absolute perfection, and excel at it, has been life changing for me. This is why, as the sun comes up tomorrow, I will be on my way to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and no matter how sore my ribs may be I will be up on that stand, flags in hand, having the absolute time of my life.