Thursday, February 5, 2015

TBT: The Time I Hid in Vegas

Throwback Thursday seems to be all the rage so I thought I'd get in the act with this story from September of 1996. Does this story have anything to do with Asperger's? Not really, but this is a story that I'll remember forever.

In 1996 my dad had worked a deal with an Indycar team, ahem, at the time it was known as the Indy Racing League, and a sponsor and the first race the sponsor would be on the car would be at the newly built Las Vegas Motor Speedway. With that being so I got the chance to go along on the trip because my go kart racing sponsor at the time was the same as what was on the Indycar so I was excited having the all access pass... Or so I thought.

USAC at the time was the sanctioning body of the Indy Racing League and they had very strict rules that, "no one under the age of 16 is allowed in the garage area no matter what." That was fine to begin with as in the hospitality tent I got to have breakfast with Bobby Unser. The following day of practice and qualifying dragged on and for one reason or another, I can't remember why, I had to wait in the van my dad had rented while he worked on the decals of the car. This was supposed to be a quick bit of work but it dragged on and even though the air conditioning was on it was futile compared to the Las Vegas sun. I thought about honking the horn but, since at the time my dream was to eventually to not be sitting in a van but rather the Indycars that were just a dozen or so feet away from me, I figured I had to toughen up and deal with the heat.

It was getting hotter now and my dad was still busy with the artwork of the car. I didn't dare step foot out of the van as to risk the fury of USAC, and risk a fine for the team. Eventually the team owner, the late Jonathan Byrd, found out I was in the van so he told my dad to, "have him sit in the car" to which my dad said, "Which car?" The car that was referred to was the Indycar. Jonathan figured that the rules were I had to stay in "a" car and that this meant that sitting in the Indycar was within the rules so while no officials were around I was smuggled, ahem, I walked to the Indycar where the mechanics were busy with alignment and other mechanical like things. During this process I was busy with the steering wheel turning it left, and right, and left, and right and I was on cloud nine. Sure, I wasn't doing 220mph, but I was at the wheel of an Indycar at the age of 13 on a race weekend. How could that possibly be beat?

Jonathan Byrd was rather firm that there was, "no risk" in me being in the car, however, each time an official walked by, I was given a cue to scrunch down in the seat and try to be as invisible as possible. He didn't really care if he got fined as he figured he wouldn't, but nonetheless I had to become invisible several times.

The decal work had finished and the alignment process had come to a close so it was now time to leave. This was easier said than done as I had to release the steering wheel from the steering column. These wheels use a quick release mechanism which is that one has to pull a ring on the other side of the wheel and pull towards them to dislodge the wheel. This seemed easy enough so I pulled and nothing happened. I tried a little bit harder but that steering wheel wanted no part of coming off. Jonathan looked at me and said, "give it a mighty tug" so I did and nothing... nothing, and then finally BAM! When it came off it didn't just slide off but rather it came into my face with every ounce of force I had been using to get it off the column. I was dazed for a second and when everything made sense Jonathan Byrd was looming over the cockpit of the car and he said, and I remember this quote about as good as any other quote in my life, "Aaron, I don't care if your nose is broken or your leg is hanging off you are not hurt. Got it? You... Are... Not... Hurt!"

I wasn't hurt but my pride certainly took a big punch to the gut. It's odd now when I'm at a race with USAC and am enforcing rules such as restricted areas due to age because my mind always goes back to Vegas in 1996 when I cheated the system and broke the rules. But hey, I was in a car and that's that was required. All in all that was the closest I ever got to making it to Indycar, but seven years after that steering wheel to the face incident I'd be back in that garage as an instructor at a racing school on the LVMS property. Thankfully I had a much better handle on steering wheels then and learned not to knock myself in the head with it when I would get out of the car, but that day has been with me since it happened and I look upon it in great favor because I can still feel the excitement I felt that day; the potential future and all the championships and races I was destined to win. As the mechanics had me turn the wheel to the left I thought of what turn one at Indy on the first lap starting from pole would be like. There was a lot of imagination that took place that day back in 1996, but never would I have imagined that I'd be in a race in life, but instead of cars it's the race to spread autism awareness and understanding. I'd never have thought of it, and maybe this is the reason why throwback Thursday is such a thing as with old pictures, if you truly stare at them, could you possibly imagine where you are today from the person that is in the photo?

1 comment:

  1. Aaron, Happy Birthday a day late! I race with you sometimes on iRacing. But you are much better than me. I enjoiyed this blog post. I also went to a Indy Car race at LVMS back when it was the IRL. I live near Indianapolis and on my flight home I sat next to a driver. It was great to talk to him because racing at IMS has been my dream for as long as I can remember. But racing there on iRacing is the closest I will come. I have also been lucky to sit in many Indy cars because I have a friend who works at IMS. Your future is bright and I look forward to finishing behind you again in iRacing!