Tuesday, November 7, 2023

The Unexpected Call

“Aaron, you’ve got to stay for the podiums.”

Ugh! It had already been a long weekend of racing in Saint Louis and as soon as my responsibilities as the flagger and the race director were over, I’d head home. The social aspect of just hanging around to chit-chat was not my thing. However, the promoter told me I had to stay.

It was the first race of 2008, and I was working a regional series and the season started at my home track. The series became SKUSA affiliated and the owner, Tom Kutscher, was in attendance. I didn’t think much of this as no matter the day, if I were at a race track I’d be giving it everything I had.

The podiums began and I thought my presence was needed to assist with trophies, but as I attempted to help I was pushed aside. This… this was odd. Why was I still there? I endured the awkwardness of hanging around, and now I was just there, standing awkwardly, and for anyone that didn’t know I had Asperger’s, the signs were obviously apparent as I had no idea how to stand in the space I was in. 

I was getting flustered. On the track, there is no second thought of how I stand, how I move, or what is required of me. I love it. I crave it. At work, I’m at play, but this? What was this?

I tried not to look too uncomfortable, or irked, but I applauded on cue when drivers were announced and they got their trophies. Then, it happened.

Tom grabbed the microphone from the promoter and said, “folks, I’ve seen some crazy…” there were some colorful words, he then continued, “yes, I’ve seen a lot at race tracks but I’ve never seen anything like I saw today.” Oh goodness… what did I do wrong? That’s all I could think of. Whatever was about to be said couldn’t be good, “What I saw was amazing!” Amazing? This was sounding better, “Amazing, passionate, it was a show… I have found my new flagman for the Supernats… Aaron, do you want the job?”

The world stopped spinning at those words. I knew the importance of that race, it’s the largest kart race in the world. It’s an event that draws racers from all over the world, and I had to blink several times to think if I heard what I actually heard. I was speechless and now all eyes were on me. Tom then asked, “so , Aaron, do you want it!” 

Want it? I dreamt about working a National event and couldn’t believe it. I nodded, I tried to say yes, I was fending off tears as the crowd erupted in cheers. It was a scene out of movie, and as I drove home that evening, I kept the news to myself until I walked into the house and told my dad the exciting news, the news that would change my professional life.

Two things inspired me telling you this story. The first is that, right now, I’m on a plane heading to my 15th SKUSA Supernats. Secondly, the question I was asked by an individual as I presented at Easterseals Arkansas has haunted me for almost two weeks now. “Aaron, how do you keep your dream alive?” 

That question and this story, combined, gives me so much hope. I probably understates just how much of a fish out of water I was standing around awaiting the podium ceremony. My social skills were minimal back then. My timing in conversations were about as awkward as someone trying to tango during a slow waltz. However, my passion an ability at the job itself was noticed.

A dream can bring so much hope and so much anguish. My dream to be a race car driver was dashed right at the time of my diagnosis. It was the only thing I wanted to do in life, however, all dreams may not be fulfilled, but sometimes the dream can turn into a wonderful dream you didn’t know you had. From picking up SKUSA, I continued living my dream at the racetracks and there’s no doubt in my mind that my path to the NTT INDYCAR Series and the Indianapolis 500 absolutely needed that regional kart race in Saint Louis in 2008.

In this world, I firmly believe that dedication and passion for a job, any job, is noticed. It can be difficult to keep the work ethic of giving it one’s all because, what’s the point? Who is going to notice? If other people barely try, why should I? Those questions are easy to fall into, but one may never know who is observing, who is watching, and chances one didn’t even think were possible can come out of nowhere. Well, actually they came from somewhere. The passion and drive we on the spectrum can have when our job lines up with our passion. It may not be a job, it’s play, and given the opportunity we may shine brighter than anyone could’ve imagined. I never could’ve imagined the events that came after 2008. I’m grateful, beyond grateful, my passion was noticed. 

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