Monday, November 17, 2014

The Day I Became the Supernats Flagman

I'm on my way to Vegas for this year's installment of the SKUSA Supernats where I serve as the chief starter. This will be my seventh year in this role and it seems just like yesterday, back in 2008, that I was making this trek out west for this event. However, what seems even more recent, was the day I found out I landed this gig. 

I've written this a couple time prior to today, but this story is really sticking out in my mind today. Anyway, it was back in the spring of 2008 and I was the race director and flagman of a regional series that had been known as the Central States Super Series but in 2008 we aligned with SKUSA (Superkarts USA). That being so Tom, the owner of SKUSA, came to Saint Louis for our first race of the season. I was aware of whom he was from being at the Supernats as a photographer in 2006 and 2007, but I didn't think much of it because I had a race to direct and flag. 

It was an unseasonably warm day and when I flew the final double checkered of the day I was exhausted. Back then I was not much of a socializer. Okay, I'm still not but back the. I had zero confidence in myself outside of calling a race and having a flag in my hand. What this meant was that, at the end of the race day, I made myself vanish. I left the property as fast as I could because I couldn't take a random encounter. It was actually this series which started the transition to me becoming who I am today, but back then socializing was something I had no skills in which is why the next half of this story truly irritated me at the time. 

Once all the race and technical aspects if the day were done I took my flags and started walking to my car. Greg, the person I worked for at the time and the series promoter, asked me to stay for the trophy presentation to help out. I was just 30 short minutes from home and home was calling out loudly because had I been home there'd be no chance of a social interaction. However, when the boss says stay it means stay. So I stayed to help out which was odd because I was given no task. You see, if you ask me to help give me something to do. Don't tell me to stay and help out and give me nothing as I was experiencing a severe episode of "positional warfare" because I had no idea where to be standing or how I should be in the space that I was in. 

The winners and podiums progressed and at the end Greg said, "and now Tom has a special announcement that he'd like to share." At this point in time I wasn't really hearing much because I was off on the side "helping out" which now was really irritating me because I could have been home by one and here I was, standing there and sticking out because my level of uncomfortableness was beyond obvious, but nothing could have prepared me for what was next. Had this been videotaped this may have been one of those bait lined Facebook stories such as, "this person was just standing there but nothing could prepare him for the life changing news that was about to happen."

Tom took center and started talking. I will out this in exact quotes which this may not be word for word, but the way I remember, well, truly will be words I'll remember forever. Tom started, "Folks, I've been in karting for many, many years and I've been around the world but I saw something today I've never seen before." This now had me somewhat concerned because I was thinking I had screwed up a call or something within the rules, but Tom continued, "yes, I've seen a lot but I've never seen anything like Aaron at the finish the line. The passion, the enthusiasm, and the things he does with the flags are something I've never seen so I'm proud to announce that I've found my new flagman for the Supernats!" 

When Tom said Supernats everyone looked my way and I was frozen. I had been to that race twice and, for those that don't know the event, it is the pinnacle event in American and arguably the world so this would be like being a high school umpire getting the call to work the World Series. This wasn't just a small statement Tom said, this was the biggest thing that had ever been said to me. This further being frozen and I couldn't respond. I was fighting back tears and trying to remember how to breathe. I tried to react, but I couldn't. Tom then said, "Aaron, do you want it?" 

What do I say to that? I knew I wanted to say yes, but so many thoughts were going through my head and I know I didn't want to show the emotions that were now flooding through me. I never thought my flagging was all that special; it just has been something I've always done and as I was trying to get my brain to say yes I thought back to the first flag my dad got me when I was 3 and the flag that the Indy 500 flagman, Duane Sweeney, gave me when I was 7 and I thought of my first job as assisting Frankie in 1995 at the kart track I raced at and the years that I had been doing this and again, I thought it was nothing special because I simply did it and now I was being told I was becoming the flagman of the greatest karting event in the world. 

Finally, I regained my composure and I nodded my head and, without a quiver in my voice, I said yes to which a burst of applause roared out. 

After a few conversations I did make it to my car and I was rather thankful that I was told to stay to "help out." When I pulled out of the parking lot the emotions finally bubbled over and I had to pull over. It was too much; mind you this was 2008 and I wasn't a published author, I wasn't a autism ambassador, and besides a few hours data inputting at the kart shop I was mainly unemployed and my future looked rather hopeless in achieving anything in my life and now I had just been told I was worth something and was extraordinary at something. I had something to look forward to besides the 6 regional races I did a year. 

In my development I have no doubt that if it weren't for that day in Saint Louis when Tom made that announcement I would not be who I am today. I doubt I'd have the people skills to be a presenter and I probably never would have made it the other series I have flagged. It was because I was the Supernats flagman which got me in with USAC and all those travels I've done with them have furthered who I am. 

With each pilgrimage to Vegas to work the Supernats I remember back to who I was in that first race and each year I appreciate the race even more. There are defining moments in every person's life and those moments can be hard to relive and experience anew. But each November I get that chance as I exit the airport, hop into a cab, and head to the track where all who I had been didn't matter. I cherish this event and it won't be long before the Vegas skyline is my backdrop with the smell of race fuel in the air, the hint of burning rubber, and the smile I have as I take my post at start finish for the 18th installment of the spectacle that is the SKUSA Supernats. 

No comments:

Post a Comment