Thursday, May 19, 2022

Six years since the best day

Six years ago today I got to flag a day of practice for the Indianapolis 500. I think it’ll be unique for you to read what I wrote about that day as, when I wrote it, I never thought I’d be there again…

So last Friday I wrote a humble blog on the road it took to get to Indy and all the factors and people that helped along the way. The thing is, though, that I got many messages saying, “Aaron, come on, tell us what it was really like as the story is such an inspiration.” So here goes, what the day really was like and what it meant.

I did a national speaking tour in 2012 and on the way to New York City my friend and codriver on the journey, Rob, stopped at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and did the grounds tour. On that tour the tour bus will stop at the famous yard of bricks and everyone gets out and it’s a high quality photo op. On this trip I didn’t look down at the yard of bricks but rather up at the stand and I told Rob, “Someday. Rob, someday I’m going to be in that stand!” Everyone has dream, and that dream was lofty, but when a dream comes true, well, that’s exactly what happened on Thursday.

The previous two days I had been working the Purdue/USAC EVGP at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and as mentioned in Friday’s blog, I was asked if I had ever been in the stand while the track was hot. The answer was no and I was told there may be a chance the following day and I should await a text message. The message never came and going to sleep last Wednesday was not easy because I had been told I may be allowed to stand in what I consider to be the most sacred of flagging offices in all the world.

I awoke early and checked my phone… Nothing. “He’s extremely busy” I told myself and I waited, but still no message came. Practice started at noon at it was now 11 so I decided to go to Noble Roman’s on 10th St which is near the track to position myself to either make the long drive back to Saint Louis or make the short and glorious drive to the corners of 16th and Georgetown and as much as I love the breadsticks there each passing minute raised and frayed my nerves.

What to do? I didn’t want to pester this track official as that’s the last thing I wanted, but still he said he’d get back to me so for once in my life I went out on a limb and I sent a text indicating I didn’t want to pester but I was just so excited. As busy as he was he got back with me within 30 seconds and I was out the door of that Noble Roman’s and started the most fantastic drive to the track. I was on the road I essentially grew up on and I thought back to 25 years ago growing up and never could I have imagined that the dream I had of being in the flag stand during the month of May was about to come true!

I reported to the credential office and it was all taken care of and I was given a silver badge and then a lady came in and shouted my name and if I was in the room. I was, I said, “hello” and the next 15 minutes was a blur as we walked through some offices, got on a golf cart, and made our way into the infield with the sound of Indycars doing 225mph on the track as the soundtrack to this adventure.

She handed me over to the track official as he finished an interview and then it was another blur as I was introduced to various people, so many that I don’t fully recall, but I got a quick tour of the impressive race control room and then it was time! It was a walk I had envisioned when I first waived a flag at the track in the infield for practice when my dad took me in 1988. It was a walk I envisioned the first time I assisted Frankie in 1995 at the SLKA, and when I picked up SKUSA and USAC it was a walk that, albeit seemed like a mirage and an unobtainable accomplishment, the unobtainable was now being experienced as we walked from the pagoda down the tunnel and towards that most sacred of places; the flagstand of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

On the walk the conversation was very much relaxed all things considered. We talked about dreams, autism, and how excited I was. It was also an honor, and I mean that in the truest of words, that this man would take so much time out of his day to make this happen for me.

Out of the tunnel and now we were approaching the stand. He asked me if I wanted to go first and I said, “After you” as I was now soaking it in. This was it! The moment I waited for my entire life and the 21 years of having flags in hand at tracks around the country was now about to equate into an experience few have ever had. First though, I had to negotiate the tricky ladder which if you have a fear of heights you’d hate this ladder and if you don’t have a fear of heights you’ll develop one quickly.

I made my way up and as I did a yellow for a track inspection was called which allowed everyone in the stand to get introduced to me and a couple group photos were taken. Was I nervous in all this? Ha! The photo with the Sunoco checkered was about the trickiest photo I’ve ever taken. I know how to hold a flag for a photo, well, I typically do but I just couldn’t find the corner to display it right. Andrew, the other starter for the day, assisted me and I felt so bad that I couldn’t grip a corner of a flag rightly, but the excitement pulsing through my body made that task rather difficult. Oh, and clipping on the wired radio to my belt… That too was something that had to have those in the stand thinking, “Who is this and why is he here?”

The track was about to back to green and Andrew handed me the green and immediately the nerves went away. When time was right I gave a fierce wave so all in the pits could see even though they have radio communications and as the cars that went on track came around I gave a classy green. I didn’t go all out because that would be out of place for practice, but there was still style to it even though yeah, I wanted to give it my all as if it were the final restart for the Indy 500, but I can contain myself. The style was still good enough to catch the attention of race control which made mention of it after they identified that there was a guest in the stand.

After that I was all business and I barely moved during green flag conditions as I watched each car that went by eyeing for any possible debris. During yellow periods I’d converse and the flag stand observer in the tower, middle in the group photo, actually remembered me from 1996! That also eased the nerves but again, each time the track was under green conditions I stood there in my spot at attention as if I belonged because… I did.

Time flew by. Race control radioed, “three hours remain” and the next thing I know, “one hour remains.” No! What’s happening?! Time flew and I have been asked if I got to “soak it in” which I didn’t because it was so natural being up there. In all the videos that are out there I look as if I’ve been in that stand my whole life which in my imagination I have been, but as 6:00 came and the call for checkered came along with it the three cars on track came off of four and I gave another classy display of the flag and as they passed I froze with the flag and the wind made it look even better as the checkered danced in the wind. Freezing is, if starters have a signature move, is mine but I froze for another reason because that moment in time I wanted to live in forever. It’s been a rough two months for me and I never needed something more than this chance to live out a dream and as several seconds passed I turned towards the other two and started rolling up the checkered. The dream day, the day I waited for my entire life and was sure I’d never get to experience, was now over which is almost as bad as never thinking you’d get to do it in the first place.

The walk back to my car was… It was odd. On one hand I walked with confidence as I had been a very small part of the month of May at Indy. I called my dad to tell him just how awesome it was but then I got a call from the track official that made this all happen. I quickly switched over and he wanted to see me before I left and thankfully I was parked right by his office.

He came out of the office and I was beaming ear to ear with a smile and when he asked me, “How was it?” the answer was obvious and I said, “Thank you for the best day of my life!” There was no exaggeration or embellishment in that and I’ve never been more thankful to another person than I was right then and there. How often does one get to live out a dream? I did and I can try and describe what it is like in having Indycars zoom past at 225+mph, or the way a pack of cars and the air can shake the stand, or what it is like seeing yourself on the gigantic video screens, or what it is like in working so hard for so long and having it pay off, but no matter what as great of a writer as I am I’d never give it justice. Only one person will ever truly know the words or the lack thereof because it was in my smile, a smile decades in the making.

No comments:

Post a Comment