I Flag NASCAR and I’m Proud of it!

Boy did I put my foot in my mouth! I lied in the last post made Friday night, the weather changed an extremely boring event, where absolutely nothing happened until the sun came out, to an amazing weekend full of action and fun! FUN! For anyone that knocks NASCAR, they clearly haven’t done it as volunteers or haven’t even seen a road course race in person. The noise, the smell, the vibrations you get are second to none. Completely different experience you get from Formula or Sports Cars, but very enjoyable indeed.

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My partners in crime this weekend, team JRT flaggers: Tim and Jessie, were far more excited about the prospect of working NASCAR than I was, I think. But it wasn’t until I got to work with them at the entry to the bus stop – station 6, that I got into the spirit of the weekend. We even shot a little promo video for Sponsor A Flagger that I will share later, but now back to the racing.

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Sunday was the big day, the NASCAR Sprint Cup race for which I got up bright and early to help my new friends John and Judy work crossovers – strategic points on the racetrack where spectators could cross en masse from the camp ground to the infield, and the grand stand areas. That was a great deal of fun in itself because not only did I do something un-boring for a bunch of hours of the day (that I would normally spend flagging support races, of which there weren’t any, NASCAR really doesn’t need any support) actually speaking with the spectators as they waited for a chance to cross the track after pace laps had commenced was cool. I snapped a whole lot of pictures for them with the chequered flag that someone brought to station, and even had spectators take my picture as an “official” working for the series, which was kind of cool. It was amazing to see how into the sport these fans were, and how much they either supported their driver or ragged on other people for choosing an inferior driver in their opinion. Funny and fun at the same time. Wish sports cars would have the same level of enthusiasm, TV coverage, and camaraderie that American Stock Car racing fans have, even the Canadian race fans at Mosport can’t quite match them. The Europeans at Le Mans probably can, though.

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During the actual race, I was corner captain and communicator at station 5 while Tim worked flags and comms at the preceding station 4 down the Esses. It seems to me like more than 75% of the major action today happened between 4 and 5, so Tim, John (who was Tim’s corner captain at 4) and I were quite busy calling it all in, play by play, car number by car number. I am very impressed with NASCAR for not cutting the race short after a few pile ups blocked the racetrack completely and everyone was stopped in the bus stop awaiting the conclusion of the clean up. That was cool! Similarly, there was very little difference in flagging this series compared to other series, I had positioned my blue and yellow flaggers criss-crossed, so the yellow could watch oncoming traffic and warn us if anyone was about to crash into the station, and blue would look the opposite way to actually flag the incident if it happened. Incidents did happen, starting with Jeff Gordon crashing hard into the ARMCO after putting one of his wheels in the grass, and then a few other cars almost losing it, or indeed losing it and brushing the ARMCO (before losing a wheel further down the track). It was FUN! And I was flowing with adrenaline…

I don’t feel bad at all that I was wrong about Friday, both Saturday and Sunday more than made up for the boredom. Plus, huge thanks goes out to RSI, the powers that be at Race Services Inc. that provided me with an opportunity to have a great time, and I’m very thankful to them for that. During the crossovers I and others tried recruiting spectators to come join us flagging, but I think after sharing some of the stories from this weekend, we could even convince some of the hardcore SCCA flaggers we work with at other tracks to give Watkins Glen another try, it ain’t what it used to be and is as much fun if not more than the other circuits. If anyone is interested in joining RSI – get in touch with me, and I’ll make a referral! See you trackside….

PS. Team JRT flagging even managed to get on TV on Saturday for the Nationwide Series race… not bad for a weekend that started out with a huge storm on Thursday and a big rescue mission that Tim and I set off on in the Jeep, wading through flooded country roads to get Jessie to the safety of the RSI campground at Watkins Glen ­čÖé