Monday, September 15, 2014

Positional Warfare: Life on the Other Side of the Mic

This past weekend I worked the final USAC .25 pavement race of the year at Columbus Motor Speedway. The race season is winding down, and yet I still have four total events remaining this year. Anyway, on Saturday morning, I got a surprise as I was told I'd be flagging at the big track that night with the program consisting of USAC Honda HPD Midgets, Legend cars, and crazy compacts.

Our .25 program had run a little long so when it was time I was rushed away on a golf cart and to the big track I went which, as I took the flag stand, it brought back memories of four years ago at the same place when I flagged my first ever big car race. As with four years ago something new was about to happen.

Hot laps began, then qualifying, and then the first HPD feature race and the race went smooth, green to checkered (meaning no incidents) and when the race was the winner stopped at the finish line for the usual interview. However, the person who had been announcing was dealing with an off track issue so there was no one there. I then heard over the radio, Aaron, do you want to interview him, big guy?" What could I say to this? The voice in my head was the owner of the track and it'd have looked silly to have a winner there expecting an interview with no interview given. Besides, I've done interviews on iRacing so how hard could it be?

Well, it isn't so much wanting to interview but it takes a microphone to do so. I looked around the flag stand because I was told over the radio it was, "near the flags" hence why I was looking frantically around my flags and stand to which there was no mic. Maybe 15 seconds passed before I heard over the radio, "No, not your flags, the American flag in the infield." With that said, I ran to the infield and grabbed the mic and headed back to Austin Nemire, whom had won, to do the interview. As I approached him I said, "This is my first interview so go easy on me" and after I said that I heard the announcer in the tower throw it down to me.

Instantly I started with the type of questions I've asked of people on iRacing after races. If it weren't for that experience I don't know if I had been able to do this interview. Sure, I've given 557 presentations to almost 50,000 people total, but I have complete control of that environment now; I feel safe speaking in front of people. In that environment there is zero interaction and when it comes to interviewing people on broadcasts of iRacing there is no physical presence and it's just voices. Here in lies the first experience of "Positional Warfare" I've experienced in a long time.

Before I continue I need to state what the positional warfare is. There's a saying out there that, "people on the autism spectrum may appear uncomfortable in their own skin" which I call this the positional warfare in that, no matter how I have my body and posture, nothing feels right. So imagine being in public and second, third, and fourth guessing the way your arms should be, your legs, your facial expressions. And then imagine having all these thoughts raging louder than the loudest noise you've ever heard with anxiety pulsing down your arms and legs.

So back to the start of the interview, I began with the start of the race and how was the car and Austin gave a great answer to which I went into a leading question which I've learned to do on iRacing. What's this? It's a question but I tell a story. I asked, "In the race you took the lead only to lose it the lap after in lap traffic and when you fell back a few car lengths did you think you had enough to get it back?" and again Austin gave a great answer and it sounded like something you'd see at a top level of the racing ladder.

So I was able to ask good questions but take a look at that picture. It may just look like me standing there, but this photo has, for me, frozen a moment of social paralysis forever. What you can't see in this photo is just how frozen I am. I could not move my left arm and it was frozen like that the entire time I held the mic. My head did not move as well and the only movement that occurred was my right arm and the microphone. That's all I could move as the positional warfare raged in my brain.

As the interview wrapped up I began to think just how difficult this had been and I felt a little bad about myself. I had just spent about 10 hours flagging and had experienced nothing like this. When I flag I am free and there are no thoughts of movements, posture, or where I am in the space I am in. I'm also like this at presentations and yet, with just one change in the environment, I become frozen in space which is why I said I am thankful to have had the iRacing virtual interview experience. With that I knew the script of what to ask, that and of course all the races I've watched for the past 30 years and hearing pit reporters give interviews, but having the experience and doing it myself I had the spoken words down. When it came to understanding the physical appearance, though, I had no experience and if it weren't for my previous iRacing experience the positional warfare would have made it to where I would not have been able to ask anything. Well, I might have been able to throw out a simple, "How was the car? Uh. Um. Yeah. Congrats?"

It was first for me once again at Columbus Motor Speedway and if I ever get the chance to give an interview like this again I'll have a little bit more experience to go by. Maybe I won't be as stiff and maybe I won't experience the positional warfare as greatly as I did. It was the first time I've experienced this in a long time as I have become a master of my environment and I've gotten excellent at avoiding situations that create this issue so it was a great reminder of just how strong of a sensation the positional warfare is.


  1. I wonder Aaron, are you able to explain how you are able to think about all the things going on with your body during this interview yet still dedicate a good part, if not the majority of your mind to giving a good interview? Were there two different conversations going on at the same time or was the interview being done "on autopilot" while your warred with your outward image? This is just curiosity on my part, not anything specifically to do with Autism because anyone with first time jitters may have experienced the same thing, but not have dealt with it the same way you did. I'm just trying to understand the processing that went on at the time, if you even remember it.

  2. Autopilot is a good way to put it. Public speaking is very much like what it is was like when I raced cars. When I raced I could do everything I needed to in the car, but without thought. I'd often be thinking about what I was going to do after, and where a good place for dinner would be. In this example of asking questions I just fell back on all the questions I've asked on iRacing. I've probably done two dozen interviews and there's a natural flow of questioning I use so it was easy. My questions rarely are swayed by what the driver says because the way I phrase the question leaves only one possible answer unless they freeze up. That said, this leaves a lot of time to think and while the driver was talking I was fully aware of my inability to move. It was an odd, unsettiling feeling, to be honest, as I wanted to move and I didn't want to look like a statue, but I couldn't help it.