I had an interesting conversation Sunday night regarding myself and how far I've come since I began with USAC in 2010. The person who I was talking with has known me since my first day with the USAC .25 series in 2010 and he was adamant that I'm not really the same person I was back in 2010.
That first year I was beyond shy. I had skill and I had my normal confidence while holding "the sticks" as the announcer often likes to say, but that was it. What those beyond the fence line didn't know was that my entire social skill set was on display because once that final checkered flag flew I retreated to solitude.
In 2011 I was brought on to do the full USAC .25 tour and I had also been doing the SKUSA Pro Tour, but that was just three races compared to the 12 of USAC. Having so many races and so many car rides with the USAC staff led to situations where solitude was impossible. Many of my blogs from 2011 were born from these experiences and even today flagging is an important aspect of my presentation.
When I first met the USAC .25 director at the time in 2010 and he asked me if I wanted to be the chief starter for the series I gave this speech, "Look, I have this thing called Asperger's; it's a form of autism and I'm not the most social of people out there. If you all go out and eat after a race I'll probably just want to go back to the hotel and order a pizza. I can be social, but you've got to give me time. If you push me too hard I will retreat even harder." Amazingly I was given the time I needed. This is something that I am ever so grateful for because, often times in society, people are looking for things to be perfect now but for myself it takes time.
The seasons went on and my confidence grew and grew both on track and off. One of the major things that helped, just not in my skill in flagging, but in life, was the repetition of working these events. Slowly I began to talk to those around me and since we shared an interest in racing we had common ground. We could also talk about the day's activity and the events to come.
I always knew I could talk, that wasn't the issue, the issue was having the confidence in saying what I wanted to say. Without confidence I would just go to the hotel and hide. Working all these races has carried over to my real job (some people at the track are SHOCKED when I say flagging isn't my real job) and I'm sure I'd be half, or less, the presenter I am now if I wasn't flagging. It is that important and I think to my school presentations that I've done and there is no way, no way at all, I'd be able to to do that without the confidence that flagging has given me.
All that I've written is what we talked about Sunday night and it wasn't until it was mentioned that I noticed just how much growth has been instilled in the past four years. When I signed onto doing this many events in a year my only reasoning for doing so was it may increase my chances of flagging on race day at the Indy 500 (my ultimate goal in life) but what has happened is, perhaps, much more important than that. I am a better person, a more confident person, and have a better understanding of the how important confidence is when regarding to any topic related to Asperger's.
I think back to that first day and how quiet, nervous, and anxious I was. I may have been the same flagger as I was, but as a person I'm not the same. Don't get me wrong, my passion for racing, flags, and safety are and will always be with me, but it's amazing how much more has come out of working at a track on a weekend than just watching cars go by. I truly love it, but I'm the person, the writer, and the presenter I am because of it. That may seem like a stretch, but if you could have seen me that first season (and seen my presentations back then) compared to who I am now (and the presentations I give now) you'd realize that is no stretch at all. I'll forever be thankful for the USAC staff (and SKUSA, of course) who let me be myself and instead of forcing me to interact they gave me time and that time, well, I am who I am today because of it.