Thursday, April 9, 2015

Celebrating 20 Years in Motorsport

In the midst of Finding Kansas Revisited and my Aspie Traveler Series it was lost that just over a week ago I started my 20th season involved in being a motorsports official.

When I first started assisting Frankie, the Saint Louis Karting Association flagman in 1995 I never would've imagined that I would have flagger at a quarter of the tracks I've been to. I've been coast to coast several times, I've flagged races that had Indy 500 winners, F1 World Champions in it, and countless future champions who I'm sure you'll hear about someday.

But 20 years?! I don't know if that says I'm highly dedicated or if I just don't know when to quit, but it's odd to think that the time I've spent flagging is four years older than a driver can race in the USAC .25 series!

I often get asked, though, "Why do you do it?" I do spend quite a bit a time on the road, but as I picked up the national USAC .25 series and the SKUSA Pro Tour I've grown so much as a person and this has made me a better writer and a better presenter. Also, I love the challenge! Most people, I'm sure, would shy away from the SKUSA Supernationals which can be 14 hour days with constantly 40 karts on track and my radio traffic in your ear than most people hear ambient chatter in a day, and I'm sure most people would shy away from a USAC .25 race where at some tracks there will be 10 cars on a track that has sub five second lap times! It's a lot to take it and the challenge is great and perfection isn't something to strive for, it isn't something to be desired, it is required because as being chief starter, head flag, or whatever title a person calls it I've ultimately have the flags to do something when a call has been made, or if there's situation ahead. My reflexes are always put to the test and it's something I await all week to get to do.

In the past year I've been able to merge my real job with this flagging thing I do with The Blue Wave. I hope someday this is a flag that is used at all levels across the country, but as with everything we've got to start small, but the support I've had at tracks, the donations from this flag, have made the journey all the more worth it.

After 20 years I do have to wonder, "What's next?" What's the dream? What am I aspiring for? And the obvious answer is that someday I want to flag the Indy 500. That's been the goal every since the picture at the beginning when I was 12, or the day that Duane Sweeney gave me his checkered flag when I was seven, but if that never happens I am still enjoying the journey of today. I don't do this for the pay, or the fame (haha!) but because it's something I'm for one reason or another exceptional at (other people's words, not mine) and I want to create as safe of an environment as possible for those on the track. Sure, I've got style when it comes to the way I display the flags but what makes the USAC and SKUSA series so fulfilling is the challenge and the closeness of the action. Next Wednesday night on the CBS Sports Network the SKUSA Supernats from last year are going to be broadcasted and if you watch take a look at how close I am; I'm on the racing surface. This creates a high level of communication between myself and the drivers and in a way is a throwback to the way it used to be WAY BACK in the day, and it's this purity of the sport I enjoy so much.

Someday I'm sure I'm going to celebrate 30, then 40, and maybe even 50 years and thinking about this I go back to when I began with Frankie. He had been flagging since he was in his teens and he told me stories of midget races at tracks that have long since been forgotten, and motorcycle races where you'd be hard pressed to find any information on the internet about them, and he even flagged boat races! Being involved in motorsports was something he had always done, it was a part of him the way it is a part of me and I sort of feel bad now writing this because I was the reason he lost his position. Sure, he was in his 80's, going color blind, and standing in the 100 degree heat all day wasn't ideal, but the club never had another person until I showed up. I say this because if I reach 60 years in the sport (if they still use flags in the future... yeah, I'm looking at you F1 with all your fancy lights!) I'm sure I'll be off at some track on a weekend when it will be suggested that I have an "assistant" and I'll talk about the time Michael Schumacher crossed my finish line, or the time I got to be an honorary starter for practice at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Indy 500, or the time I was displaying the white flag and all the karts on the lead lap pulled in so I actually had to retract the white for two laps! Oh, I'll share the stories but I'll know what's going on, and I'll know that it's about to be my time to display my final checkered (hopefully can still do the double then) but I know whoever is assisting me will be listening to my every word the way I listened and learned from Frankie.


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