Friday, October 17, 2014

A Season's End, Then and Now

I originally came up with this blog post idea on Sunday, October 5th in the morning during the USAC .25 race I was working but the incident that found its way to me changed my writing schedule. That being said I originally wanted to write this on the plane ride home which would have made the format awesome, but hopefully I can still make this worthwhile...

It's the final weekend of my race season, 2005, and I'm at a loss. The only thing that has kept me going this year has been these 11 events at I-55 raceway with the Saint Louis Karting Association. It hasn't been the best of years for myself. I'm jobless, have had more misadventures than I care to recount, and the future is bleak.

I sit here in my office now awaiting the final race weekend of 2014. What a season it has been! I haven't just flagged one series in completetion but two! The USAC .25 schedule wrapped up two Sundays ago and the SKUSA Pro Tour will wrap up with the biggest event I work all year next month.

As the sun sets and the final checkered flag flies on the SLKA season I feel a sense of dread. For me, I feel as if this is the last race I will ever flag. With club elections how can I guarantee that my services will be required next season? After all, everyone is replaceable. I surely hope this wasn't my last race.

Today I look forward. Where will next season take me? Sure, this season isn't quite over yet, but there's the thrill of what next season will bring. Where will the events be? Will the Blue Wave be bigger in April? Can I come up with an excuse to introduce yet another new flag to my arsenal of flags?

I can't let this day end. I truly can't. I take my time rolling my flags up and making the walk from the finish line to the pits. To make this day last longer I decide to do something I haven't done all season, or ever actually. I decide to hang around and talk. I feel very much out of place and it shows. Socializing is not my thing, at all, and the EMT I think notices this and he asks if I want to help do a little clean up and then park the golf carts in the garage. I agree.

This has been my 20th season of being in the flag business and each event I do now I cherish. At the end of each event, as I roll my flags up, I have a feeling I think an artist would have after finishing a work of art, or a conductor of an orchestra after a perfect production. Unlike a decade ago I don't have the fear of socializing after an event. It's been an odd progression, but I know if it weren't for becoming the SKUSA flagman in 2008 and the USAC .25 flagman in 2010 that I wouldn't have 10% of the socializing skills I have and I would be nowhere near the presenter I am today.

The sun is now beyond the horizon as the EMT and I finishing up cleaning the grounds and the realization that this is it; the season is now over. There will be no "next race" and nothing to look forward to. I feel as if this is it; this is the end of everything I've loved. I park the golf cart in the grid area to soak in the final moments of what has been an amazing run, now my 10th year of flagging, but this is it. It's over. The final trailers are pulling out and the headlights of the cars which had been leaving have left which the few lights were there are gone making the place pitch black dark. A perfect description for how I feel.

I still fear that each race I do will be my last race. Stuff can happen and who knows, I may smash my hand with a bowling ball or, well, things can happen and I worry that, with leaving each track I do doing a year, I fear that this was it. Even after 20 seasons I still feel the rush, and childlike giddiness, when I arrive to a track. Maybe when I don't feel this it's time to retire from flagging, but I still do and with each year it seems to get stronger.

It's time now. I drive the golf cart towards the garage on the far side of the property and there's maybe just a handful of people left whereas just hours prior there were over 120 drivers and countless more spectators, crews, parents, and workers. It's rather cold know which has made the tears all the more bitter. I walk slowly to my car knowing for certain that this will be my last footsteps on the grounds of a race track ever. And why shouldn't I feel this? Everything in my life has fallen apart and just over a year ago I got this diagnosis of Asperger's which all but eliminates me from ever having anything remotely considered a life so I'm sure that losing the SLKA flagging job will just continue the streak of unfortunate things that will happen to me. After those thoughts I get into my car, close the door, start the engine, and leave the only place that has made me happy for the entire year of 2005.

What a difference nine years can make, right? In 2005 I was hopeless and flagging was the only thing I had outside of the random writing that I was doing but I was sure that wasn't going to lead to anything. Oddly, it was those writings that became my book Finding Kansas and even though I was in the worst emotional crisis of my life the seeds of hope were being planted even though I was oblivious to it. As it would turn out, I would be invited to flag in 2006 and not only that, in one of the biggest events that shaped who I would become, I got elected as race director AND also because flagger/race director of a regional series AND I became the writer of the press releases and race recaps.

This was an easy blog to write, in terms of writing as if it were 2005 because I relive that night frequently. It's hard to explain, unless you've felt it, what losing something you have enjoyed doing your entire life. That's where I was in 2005 and it was partly the flagging but also the fact that EVERYTHING in my life had fallen apart. I don't know what I would've done if I didn't have the 11 weekends spread out across 2005, but the feelings of that day still resonate to this day and fuels what I'm doing both with flagging and presenting. I find it so odd that I went from feeling hopeless and proclaiming to all the people I didn't know that life was hopeless and now I'm out in the world proclaiming that there is always hope. Life has so many twists and unique turns, but on the ride home I thought about how awful the future was going to be. I don't like admitting I'm wrong (because I'm never wrong) but that evening I was and any other time I thought all was lost I was wrong and thank goodness I was!

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