Friday, September 26, 2014

For the Love of the Race and the Moment

So last month after the USAC .25 director and I went to a game at Camden Yards I became interested in how the umpires officiating the game got to that level of their profession so I did a little research and was amazed at just how hard it is to get to the top. A week later I would be at my sister's house where I said something like this. Mind you, these stats I'm putting are just from a vague memory and for all I know the website I read wasn't fully accurate. Anyway, here is what I said:

"So I got interested in baseball umpire and I looked it up and my goodness is it hard. A person has to start by going to an umpire school where, if you are in the top 15% of the class you may get offered a job in the lowest levels of baseball. The pay is low, the per diem is almost nonexistent, and the season only lasts several months but if you're good enough you'll get called up to double A where the pay goes up a little and the per diem pays for most meals and if you're good there you'll move up to triple A where then you're only one step away from the majors. Make it to the majors and it's going to be a healthy six figure salary, first class travel, and a per diem that would make most people freak. Here's the catch though; there's only 64 major league umpires and 256 triple A umpires and major league umpires average a 0.9 retirement average per year. And, on top of that all, if at any point in time it is determined that you don't have what it takes to make it the majors you are immediately let go and your hopes and dreams of officiating in the majors is over."

That was my speech which didn't impress my sister all that much and she quickly gave a rebuttal of, "Aaron, you call that difficult? What are you doing now going all about the country with your flags with no tiered system like baseball and the odds are against you making it to the top levels?"

I had to think about it because she brought up a highly valid point. When I read the road a major league umpire has and that it takes on average at least nine years to make it to the top I never once thought about the time, miles, and the physical toll that I am doing. In fact, in never crossed my mind. Why? I don't see what I am doing as work, exactly. Sure, I am working per the exact definition of the word, but is it work to live for those moments in a race when it comes down to the final lap and I am the first person to greet the winner?

Take this photo for example. I don't think too many people would find the position I am in to be enviable. If you are into racing then maybe, but that kart is doing about 80mph and there I am just a foot, maybe two feet, away from it as he takes the win in last year's SKUSA Streets of Lancaster race. I don't consider that work at all! I consider my work on a track to be art. Now granted most art projects don't require a person to sign a waiver, nor does it require split second decisions that could prevent a serious incident from occurring, but that's what I do and that is what I love.

I've always said my flagging and presenting go hand in hand and that without flagging I never would have had the confidence to present, and to this day flagging instills within me more and more confidence to give better presentations. However, this is a topic for another day as right now I am focusing on the race itself.

I can't remember a time that I wasn't waving a flag, to be honest, and somehow to this day I continue to, I feel, get better at it. I've always loved racing and I love perfection and the requirements of head flag/flagman/chief starter is just that. Perfection isn't expected, it's required and each race is an art in striving for complete perfection. I take my craft very seriously, just as I'm sure the umpires with dreams of umpiring a game at Fenway, or Wrigley have, and I myself have aspirations of making to the top levels of racing, but it doesn't matter what I'm flagging because whatever I am, for me, becomes the most important event in the world.

Perhaps part of the answer to my sister should have been, "Uh, because it's my Kansas" because the passion and near obsessive love, when it comes to one's Kansas, can defy what would seem to be logical. I'm not a risk taker and I lead a pretty boring life outside the fact that I'll gladly stand in front of a field of karts, with a flag in hand, and no fear in my heart, to get the job done. At the end of the day I'm not doing this to get rich, I'm not doing this to promote myself, I'm doing this to make an event that I am at as safe as possible but most of all I do it for the love of racing. I get to have the best seat in the house outside of being in the race and I get to be part of the show and I want my love of what I'm doing to be seen. No, I don't mean in terms of being the center of attention, but when the winner crosses the line I don't just want to hold a single checkered flag. Instead of that I want to make the crossing of the winner across the line a moment that the driver, and those watching, will remember. One driver, over a decade ago, said, "You make every winner feel as if they just won the Indy 500" and who knows, maybe someday I'll end up there. Many people have told me I will, but these are from people that have no say. It is a great compliment to hear, but hey, I've already thrown one green flag at Indy which is more than most people will ever do so even if I don't make it there on race day I still have enjoyed each and every moment I've had, and all the moments to come. Speaking of moments, it's time for me to finish this as it's time to create some more moments this weekend as it's once again the SKUSA Streets of Lancaster,

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