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Showing posts with label Jamie McMurray. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jamie McMurray. Show all posts

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Weekend in Phoenix and an Unexpected NASCAR Race

If you missed my video blog from Saturday you may want to go back one day and view it as I announced the Autism Awareness Tour of America coming in April.

I filmed the video blog during the 1st round of the USAC Generation Next tour in Phoenix and it felt so great to be back at a track with flags in hand. I could tell I am out of shape, in a way, as by the end of Saturday my knees ached from leaning over the side of the railing and my right wrist felt like a pile of jelly at the end of the day. All in all though it was a great day, and safe day, at the track and already I am looking forward to next week's race in San Antonio.

After the race on Saturday the USAC staff and I went to the Tempe area for dinner. I believe Arizona State University is in that area and the amount of people walking on the sidewalks is amazing. My typical night is not leaving the house so being out in the environment is 100% alien to me. Truly, I could not believe how many people were out with 2, 3, or sometimes a dozen friends at once. There's loud music blaring from almost every eating establishment and no one seems to mind. Walking past some places I cringed as my senses were assaulted and that was a reminder why this environment is so foreign to me.

Sunday morning I awoke not knowing what to expect. There weren't really any plans and once the car rental place finally open Rick and Denise, two fellow USAC officials, and I started driving wondering what to do. There is no shortage of things to do in the Phoenix area, but I mentioned, "You know, the NASCAR race broadcast just started, I saw, so the race will be starting in an hour so why don't we go to that?" And, with that question asked, we headed West to the track.

On the way to the track I mentioned several times how odd this felt. The reason why this felt odd was because when I go to an event I usually have it planned days, or weeks, in advance. In other words spontaneous decisions like going to an event like this just doesn't normally happen in my life. To be honest it felt somewhat liberating to be headed to an event without a ticket not knowing what was going to happen.

We found a guy on the street selling tickets and, to be honest, Rick's and my negotiating skills were certainly lacking as we probably could have talked down the price, but oh well, the tickets we got were pretty good to be honest.

Also, I felt truly out of my element as we took our seats after 74 laps. When I go to an event I am always early. Being late is not an option and yet, yesterday, despite feeling odd it felt okay; it wasn't the end of the world.

After the race while walking back to our parked car there was a car stopped waiting for the foot traffic to take a break and there in the driver's seat was Jamie McMurray. I thought to myself that it is certainly a small world and I wanted to make some sort of waive of my hand or simply something to say hello, but by the time I had processed that it was him I was already 30 seconds away. With so many people though I doubt he'd have any memory of me, but I still felt it awesome how paths can cross.

So that was my weekend. All weekend I have been trying to process just what impact my keynote presentation had and still am at a loss as to the reaction I got. Maybe someday I will understand, but as of now I will simply keep presenting oblivious as to why people enjoy it so much. Also, it felt kind of nice to live outside of my rigid ways. Granted, I still want to be early for everything I go to and I don't think the nightlife of Tempe is for me, but for one weekend I was part of "that" world that I wonder about so much.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Schumi and Me (Part 3 of 3)

I felt like a rockstar as I boarded the plane to head to Las Vegas. Five months had passed since the news broke suddenly that I would be flagging the SKUSA Super Nationals held in the Rio Hotel parking lot in Las Vegas.

To say I was happy would be the biggest understatement ever. Racing and flagging have been a part of me for as long as I can remember, and now I was at the pinnacle of karting events. If you ever had a goal in life that you finally reached, perhaps maybe then you could relate to the elation I felt as I got off the plane and grabbed a taxi to head to the Rio.

I didn't know what to expect as the chief starter of the SuperNats. I had been to two prior, but only as a photographer so I didn't know what to expect on the radio, or how busy the track would be. The most karts I ever had on track at one point in time was 20, but one class had 48 on track at the same time. Needless to say it was very demanding to pay attention to all that was going on.

The 2008 edition had some famous drivers, 2004 Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice and 2005 Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon as well as NASCAR star and future Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray in the field. To be honest though, I had no idea which karts belonged to who because there were about 400 karts in just 9 classes. Names were never mentioned on the radio so I had no idea if Wheldon or McMurray were on track or not. In other words, I had more important issues at hand than to be in awe of drivers I have seen on television.

What I will remember most of the 2008 edition was chaos. The event had many accidents and I think I waived the red flag over 20 times. The days were long with Friday running from 7 in the morning to just a tick before midnight without a break. It may have been hectic, but I wasn't phased by it. It was all part of the job, my muscles may have ached, and my attention span was being put to its absolute limits, but this was the SuperNats, this was the biggest race on American soil so I had to stay sharp.

I must have done a decent job because I was invited back for the 2009 race. Early in 2009 I heard a rumor. A BIG rumor. The rumor was that Michael Schumacher was thinking about running in the SKUSA SuperNats. This, was nothing short of astonishing.

The name Michael Schumacher may not be a household name in America, even perhaps in some homes that say they are race fans as Schumacher, or "Schumi" to some, was and is a Formual 1 driver. F1 isn't as big as NASCAR in America, but worldwide Schumi is known as, perhaps, the greatest F1 driver ever. He retired from his seat with the Ferrari team in 2006 with a record of 7 World Drivers Championships and 91 race wins in just 249 starts! He has since come out of retirement for the 2010 season with Mercedes GP.

I grew up watching Schumi on television on Sunday mornings on ESPN, then Speed before my races. For those that watched F1 in those days he almost was a spolier because when he won, he would win easily. From his skill he was the highest paid sports star in the world for many years until Tiger Woods took that spot from him.

The months went by and I was already counting down the days until the SuperNats before this rumor broke. Honestly, leaving Vegas in 2008 was one of the saddest events of my life because I had to wait one entire year until the 2009 race. This rumor made the days trickle by slower.

Then, the rumor became a reality. Michael Schumacher would be racing at the kart race I would be flagging. I could not believe it! The biggest racing star of all time would be on the race track I was flagging at. This would be like being a basketball ref at a semi-pro game and having LeBron James show up to play.

August, September, October, went by painfully slow, but finally it was November and as I boarded the plane I didn't feel like a rockstar because I was nervous. The level of perfection that I knew was required went up by an unmearsuable margin. It may be a kart race, but the world would be watching, or at least following it on the internet. On, the leading website for news about karting, the forum thread that followed the race had over 150,000 views!

The class Schumi was in didn't participate in day one of on track activites so I had to wait a day to say that I was on the same track as a legend. What was different though about 2009, immediately, was the lack of chaos. The red flag only flew two times for the weekend, but none for injuries. From the on-track staff to those in the grid and tech, to scoring, the entire event ran like I would envision one of those F1 races would that I grew up watching.

Then, Thursday came and the Super Pro class took to the track. Schumi was on track and the crowds that engulfed the surronding viewing area were at their max. Unlike the previous year where Rice, Wheldon, and McMurray remained hidden, there was no mistaking Schumi's white suit and stunningly bright orange helmet.

The second time he approached me I started to think of just how big an honor I had, but this thought was only for a second as the kart that had just passed me blew a motor and spun, my instincts kicked in and I waived my yellow passion with a vigor that implored danger. The kart was in the middle of the track and the speeds on the straight were just under 100mph.

All the drivers slowed and the karter was cleared and I never once thought of Schumi as Schumi for some time. There was a time he proved he was just, "another karter" when he lifted his own kart onto the flatbed. There were two very willing hands to pick up his kart, but he insisted on doing it himself.

Practice continued on and the next time Schumi was on track he did an extra lap when I gave the checkered. The protocol is that when I waive the checkered in practice the drivers are to pit that lap. The next time out he did this again so as he came down the main straight with no other karts on track I pointed my roller up yellow at him and pointed to the checkered and he game me a hand gesture as to say, "oops". I smiled and laughed.

The media Schumi brought to the event was large. At least three different languages were
spoken by photgraphers that tried to ask me where they could stand. One German journalist told me that, "If I were to flag like that in Germany they would surely make a statue out of me!" I think that was a compliment.

Just because Schumi was there didn't mean all the other classes were forgotten about. On the first rolling start of the finals on Sunday I did a very symbolic thing as I emulated Duane Sweeney's twin green flags at the start of a race. Duane's kind act by giving me his checkered flag did nothing but motivate me and while this may not have been the Brickyard, and this wasn't the Indy 500, this was the pinnacle of karting. While you can see by this photo, I am rather close to the karts (my mom called me "CRAZY!" by this photo), but the first time I did the double I was choked up and almost had a tear in my eye when I thought about the man who made his wife make another flag.

As the finals day rolled on it was time for the Super Pro class. All the drivers in this class are introduced and shake hands, or do a fist pump, with the SKUSA staff. While other notable drivers such as Nelson Piquet Jr. and Sebastien Buemi were in the race, the chill that went up my spine was nothing compared to shaking hands with the legend himself, Michael Schumacher.

With each lap that went by I got sadder and sadder as this was it. When this race was over the anticipation of flagging a race that Schumi was in would be replaced by the memory of the event.

As I waived the white flag to show the drivers that there was just one lap to go the 5th place kart blew a motor and spun right right by me. I instantly got the yellow out as Schumacher passed me (see this happen in the 2nd video below at the 7 minute mark).

I was sure Schumi was going to slam into the kart, but you don't become a 7 time world champion without having some extradoniary avoidence skills.

Then, as the winner came by I did my standard double checkered. The following karts finished and then Schumi came by and flashed by my flags. I didn't speak to Schumi verbally at all over the course of the weekend, but I did my talking with my flags. I hope to flag at Indy someday and other big races that have a flagstand, but in karting, most the time, I am on the track and can look the drivers in the eyes. From the "oops" gesture he gave me to me saluting him with the double checkered, it was an experience few people have had.

I would have never thought that, as the 6 year old at the 1989 Indy 500, or even being an assistant for an aging flagger at a small kart club, I would have had the opprtunity to flag such a big event. This thought was even more profund once I got my diagnosis of being on the autism spectrum, but you know what, that day, in Vegas, I was still on the spectrum but the only label I had was chief starter of the largest go-kart race ever.

Below is video from the finals of the class Michael Schumacher was in. Part one is the video on top, the 2nd half of the race is the video on the bottom.

Part 1

Part 2

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Congrats to McMurray!

I just wanted to congratulate Jamie McMurray on winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Brickyard 400 today at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Day 16: Reflections on the McMurray saga and my drive so far

Hello from Rochelle, Illinois. I am currently stopped outside a hotel using their Wi-Fi. I have been thinking about the weekend on my drive and the difficulties I had. I wonder how many times my story has been repeated in other people's lives? To want to do something, to want to be a part of something, but to be unable to.

I told myself I would not ask for help. I was going to get that book to Jaime McMurray by myself. I was sure of this. As the story turned out I did ask for help, but asking for help is something that I don't do often. I must have looked silly standing by Jamie's pit for 30 minutes yesterday morning. I tried to look like I knew what I was doing by constantly checking my phone and looking at the clouds coming in, but in all reality I was socially paralyzed. I knew what I needed to do but lacked the skills to do it.

Again, I'm sure my story has been repeated many times and through all the hardship and my declaration yesterday of, "NEVER AGAIN" I am glad it happened because, perhaps, it will give you an insight into the struggle and pain that goes on.

I hope you what you take from this is that there are times I will want to say something but will need help. Asking for help though may just be as hard as what I am trying to do so sometimes don't expect me to ask. I am afraid of asking for various reasons and each time the reason may be different as to why I am afraid, but please know that I may want to say something, but words may elude me.

So, as I said, I am in Rochelle which is about four hours from home. The weather was ultra foggy this morning and I was sure I would have a run in with a deer or horse, but all went well. (I've hit a horse before, but never a deer.)

An interesting event occurred though and this is the real motivation behind this article. About an hour out of Shawano I started following this blue Chevy Cobalt. I don't know where they were going, but the passengers in the rear had Milwaukee Brewers caps on so perhaps they were headed to a Brewers game. Anyway, I followed them for almost two hours and the child in the rear kept looking back at me. This, in a way, was kind of odd, but having my sunglasses on I felt protected.

Mile after mile clicked by and eventually their exit was not my exit. As I passed the driver, one of the passengers in the rear rolled the window down and waived to me. This shook me. Sound silly maybe, but I instantly felt a connection with them.

Connections with people are rare, but it happened and happened suddenly. In my yet to be published 2nd book I talk about a similar situation, but this is a strange phenomenon as this isn't the first, or second time this has happened.

I now wonder who they were and where they were going?. How much did they talk about the black Nissan Maxima with a knockoff hood behind them? Will they ever remember me? I, for at least a second, was a part of their lives, but then, just like a off ramp, was out of their lives when the road parted.

The next 200 or so miles will be filled with thoughts as I return to my normal life and the sunglasses experiment. There will be no NASCAR drivers that I will be trying to get my book to nor events that require perfection. Yet, through it all, I bet I still will be thinking about that family in the blue Chevy Cobalt.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Day 15: A Tense Day


Never again will I put myself in this situation because it was horrible! All I wanted to do this weekend was to give Jamie McMurray a book. On paper it sounded simple, but the previous two days only resulted in failure and frustration.

I woke up every 30 minutes last night with a new plan on how to get him my book. Words of encouragement rung through my head and dreams as "just do it" and "don't worry about it!" buzzed about.

I had not done it yet and people need to learn never to tell me "don't worry about it". I do worry, and I was worrying as I drove to the track this morning.

It was a cloudy morning with spots of drizzle here and there. The weather was a perfect metaphor for how I was feeling. I practiced what to say, I envisioned the posture I would have, but nothing felt right. I was doing the opposite of all the encouragement I had received because I most certainly was worrying about it.

The pits were mostly empty as I arrived as I had this plan of catching him when he got to the track. Then, there he was! He was walking with three other people though and as he walked by I was able to get out a faint, "Jai" but did not have the power to finish it. It was so silent I think I may have just thought I said it, but however loud it was it wasn't enough because Jamie and company walked right on by. Opportunity lost.

Loitering became my next tactic as I stood by his pit area. I was waiting for the right moment, but I was unsure what it would look like. The problem was I was sure I would intrude and anger him and I don't like making people angry.

7:30 came and it was time to start practice. Mother nature had different plans with a few lightning strikes so we were delayed. Unlike NASCAR, we race in the rain, but not with lightning. This gave me more time in the pits.

I was carrying my book in a protective plastic sack just in case I had the right moment. During a meeting with the track workers Jamie walked right past me and was no less than two feet away. "J" was all I was able to say. Again my presence was not noticed and my attempt to say something was heard only by me.

The lightning quickly went elsewhere and it was time to start the day. As we started it started to rain. Not much, but enough to be noticed. I was now angry at myself for forgetting my rain gear at home because I was starting to get soaked. Again, metaphorically speaking, this was a great example of how I felt.

During Qualifying I was beginning to panic. To want to do something and to be unable is the worst feeling in the world. I had to do it, but it was also impossible for me. I was being torn up and it takes a lot for me to become aggravated with myself, but I was there.

Then the bottom fell out, of the sky that is. A drowning rain poured down and it was enough to put a temporary halt on the on-track activity. During this time I realized I needed help as I would be unable to live with myself if I didn't achieve this small feat of giving Jamie a book.

I sent my dad a message telling him I would not be able to do this by myself and he got in touch with Rob Howden, owner of, and the trackside announcer to help me out. He agreed and said he would get it done at the end of the day.

The end of the day was 8 hours way! My mind went wild with possibilities. I did not doubt Rob's ability to introduce me, but what if Jamie left early? Oh, the possibilities!

Race after race flew by and again, like yesterday, it was a work of perfection. During the TaG Senior final Jamie was right by me as I exited the score tower to give the green from the track. "---" is what I said. I opened my mouth, but not even a faint "J" was heard. This was rather saddening to me. You see, I have learned to place myself it situations where this won't happen to me. I have learned to cope with the challenges and will avoid situations I know I can't do. I had to do this yet I couldn't. If this were a play I think it would be called tragic.

The thoughts of sadness were quickly washed away because I had a race to start and being on the track I must have full attention or risk being hit. After I threw the green I rushed back up into the flagstand and watched the race wondering if I would ever get the chance to hand Jamie that book.

The final race of the day came, and it was the race Jamie was in. I found it ironic that I have no issues communicating to the drivers. If anything I communicate more to them during the race than anyone else. Through my movements and flag waving I express what is going on, in a way. If someone is over the line my posture is my strict. I know how to do this all and it isn't vocal. What I needed to do was vocal, but I was prepared for failure so I flagged that race with a new found vigor.

If I was going to fail I was going to fail, but I was going to flag with passion. I know I can do that so I might as well go all out (well, I go all out all the time, so I went over all out if that is possible). I knew my time was running out, and while I didn't doubt Rob's ability to get me to Jamie, I just doubted if Jamie would still be there at the end as it would take several minutes to get across the track.

It was over. The final checkered flag flew and the SKUSA Summer Nationals were over. I rolled up my flags and took in my amazing view one more time. I was thankful it got dry, but my mind was still in that downpour. I walked into the score tower with my breath held as I hoped Rob will talk to me first about this.

Self advocating is not in my list of things I can do. So many hardships in my life would not have happened if I could simply speak up for myself. In this instance though it was the first thing Rob said and I began to see a sliver of hope. Now, only if Jamie was still on-site (my mind would not allow me to see the logic that Jamie would get out of his suit, get his kart loaded up, and get off-site all in less than ten minutes. In my mind it could happen).

The walk across the track is something I don't remember. It only happened 90 minutes ago, but I don't remember the walk from the tower to the pits. I know I was talking with Rob, but what, exactly, remains a mystery to me. I was prepared for failure and what to write on here and how to defend such a, well, personal failure. I can present to crowds nearing 100, but giving one person a book proved to provide such a hardship.

I don't remember waking to Jamie's tent, but I do remember Rob introducing me to Jamie's dad. It's a shame that I don't remember much, but my mind was racing so fast with anxiety that I guess the ability to process everything was reduced.

After meeting his dad, Rob and his dad introduced me to Jamie McMurray. Rob mentioned that I was the starter and also had Asperger Syndrome and that I was an author. Then he proceeded to tell Jamie that I wanted to give him a book. Jamie saw the name and was amazed that I had written it. He looked through it and appreciated the personalized autograph. He was genuinely grateful and asked the question most people ask when they found out I wrote a book, "How long did it take you to write it?"

The conversation wasn't long as the day was long and karts don't pack themselves. Jamie thanked me again, as did Jamie's dad, and much like a sappy Disney sports movie everything worked out in the end after great hardship.

I was amazed at how warm the reception was from Jamie and his dad. Perhaps people I have heard of (i.e. famous people) intimidate me, or maybe I think they all aren't fully human, if that makes sense, but they were real people, real and thankful. In my mind I am irrelevant. It is hard to put any value in what I do. I don't know why this is, but that being the case I worried myself to a frenzy about giving them my book, but in the end they were happy and thankful.

The 2010 SKUSA Summer Nationals are in the books and there was some amazing racing on the track, but 20 years from now I won't remember any of it. What I will remember is the amazing gesture of Rob Howden introducing me to Jamie McMurray and the fact that it was in the last possible moments that I was able to pull off what seemed to be simple, "A book for Jamie".

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Day 14: Another Day, Another Disappointment

The weather was amazing today and the on track action at the SKUSA Summer Nationals in Shawano, Wisconsin was intense, yet I am disappointed.

I said last week that perfection is a virtue, and today we had perfection on track. That's great, it truly is, but my goal today was to get a book to Jamie McMurray and once again I failed it that effort.

At one point in time I was walking side-by-side with Jamie and all I had to do was say something. I've seen him be very open with anyone who has approached him. Surely he would have a second for someone on the autism spectrum, right? I don't know and that is the problem. I'm afraid I'll offend him some how.

This is the problem I always have. I know I am able to talk. I know I can hold a conversation, but I know I struggle at initiating. What's more is that I am fully aware of the issue and am still unable to simply conquer the unknown.

I have one day left. Jamie's class is the last class tomorrow so I know he will still be on-site at the end. I have created a worst case scenario guarantee way to get him a book. One, I am going to sign the book to him tonight. That way I either get him the book or am stuck with an already autographed book to a person and most people don't want a book signed to someone else.

Tomorrow is the day. Will I have success, or will this block, this annoying wall that hinders me in initiating a conversation over power me?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Day 13: Either All or Nothing

Today was a long day, again. It may have been long, but flagging is much better than yesterday as today I was flagging day one of three of the SKUSA Super Nationals. As the photo to the left shows I have a flag stand at this track so this time there will be no stories of me jumping over karts.

My goal today was to get a book to Jamie McMurray. During the day my attention was on the track and keeping track of the time. Thinking about the challenge of getting him a book was not in my mind as I had a track to watch.

Today is a great example of the "all on or all off" trait of the autism spectrum. During the day my flag waving was pristine (it was difficult too with the winds. Was there a tropical storm nearby?) and attention to the time of each session was spot on. Flagging takes 110% of one's attention span, and I do it without issues.

Once the on-track activities were over SKUSA held a bratwurst party. I was tired and wind burned (I swear to everyone I DID apply sunscreen today, there is no defense against wind) but I thought about getting that book to McMurray.

Flagging is a lonely job. Rarely will I interact for more than 20 seconds on a typical race day, and I like it like that. All communications are done over the radio and things move fast. At the end of the day the rules change and people like to talk. I never have been good at this and even the sunglasses didn't help me as the "alias" went away. (Alias is a concept I set forth in my book. I'd explain it here but am too tired and it would take too long.)

Slowly the entire population of the track was near the food and I began to panic. I moved from a picnic table to standing inside the registration building. And then there he was, Jamie McMurray standing right outside the door. I was no less than 3 feet away. He was in line though and was talking to other people. Who am I to interrupt?

Who am I? This question plagued me. I have a hard time understanding that people garner hope and understanding from what I say and write. Every presentation I fear I will be laughed at or mocked by what I say simply because I am what I am and that's the way it is, why is there any relevancy to it? I know I have dozens of comments that counter my thought and sometimes I allow myself to believe I am making a difference, but it is a struggle because what I say is simply who I am and is 100% pure and without outside influence.

The line crept by and I was within 3 feet of McMurray for almost ten minutes, but in the end I was powerless. The line moved on by and I went back to the hotel with the feeling of failure.

Today, if someone were to ask me, "What's the #1 thing you would want someone to understand about the autism spectrum?" I would answer with this example. I am blessed with being the head flagger of a series like the SKUSA Pro Tour. I got the position because I have always worked hard at the race track and can pull the job off with ease. It's a tough job, but it suits me. However, as difficult as flagging may be, once the race day is over it's like I am a different person.

Living this dual life is beyond difficult. To be able to fly one minute and be grounded the next is something that is quite sad. It's hard enough, and why I want people to understand this is that I don't want someone adding to the already burning fire. I want to socialize, but when there's that many people I tend to think it is impossible. If you know someone who does something like this please don't overly push or make an obvious statement. If someone would ask that, "Wow, Aaron, why aren't you talking?" Or, "Aaron, why don't you go and talk to some more people?" the end result would not be good. I know I have this challenge.

It's difficult to be able to do certain things without effort, like writing. I don't have to think or try to write, it just happens. Yet, other things such as talking in an open ended environment among many is something that is impossible.
I have two more days to figure out how to give McMurray a book. I do not want to fail on this, but I'm afraid. I know I can keep track of many racers on the track and flag to the best of anyone's ability, but off the track I a shaky. My skills are all on nothing and I must get that book to him. I must.