Tom Hansing has turned a lifelong fascination with flagging at motorsports events into the role of Pirelli World Challenge official starter.
This week in the Pirelli Paddock Pass, Tom discusses a career spent flagging everywhere from dirt tracks to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and how he turned his dream into a reality.
When did you become interested in flagging at races?
“I grew up going to Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt, Indiana and Kentucky Motor Speedway in Whitesville, Kentucky.
“My father raced a Chevrolet Chevelle for a short time, and I got hooked. In honesty I wanted to drive, but that didn’t materialize.
“As a kid, I was always fond of the starter and had a desk set of flags from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that I would wave for big-wheel races we had in the driveway (yes I just aged myself.)”
How did you get your start?
“I met the USAC midget starter working Special Olympics Basketball.
“I began working events for free doing the “gopher” work, when I was given an opportunity in 1999 to flag a make-up, non-sanctioned, sprint feature at Terre Haute following a USAC event.
“I was asked to complete the application process by then USAC President John Capels.
“The rest is history as I became the USAC Regional Midget starter the following year, and would fill in at select sprint car events where needed.
“While flagging the 2004 USAC Silver Crown race at Richmond International Raceway in Richmond, VA, I was asked to back up Bryan Howard during the Suntrust Indy Challenge the same weekend.
“Thus began my 14 year relationship with IndyCar.
“The 2018 season saw a transition to PWC from IndyCar; while continuing to work select USAC races throughout the Midwest.
“While making a change is difficult, the staff and officials of PWC have made it very easy.”
What is a typical race weekend like for you?
“I would say that there is nothing typical for a race weekend. Just when you think it won’t change, it does (and may even after it starts.)
“A typical USAC event is usually a “single-day” show consisting of practice, qualifying, heat races, B-main, and A-main, whereas PWC events are multi-day events consisting of practice on Day 1, qualifying and Race 1 on Day 2, with Race 2 on Day 3.
“Typically we have a staff meeting prior to first on-track activity to allow the Race Director an opportunity to go over the day’s activities and any logistical items we need to address.
“It is also a time to review things that may have happened the day before.
“For me there is one constant no matter what series I’m working – stay focused on the job at hand; and do it in a positive way.”
What are the biggest differences between flagging for open-wheel racing compared to sports car racing?
“The biggest difference is the quickness in which things happen. You have little reaction time on a quarter-mile dirt track with 22 midgets or sprint cars testing limits of car and driver.
“The same was true with Indy cars, especially at the seven-eighths mile Iowa Speedway. Compare that to a 4 mile lap at Road America, where we get some time to ‘breathe.’
“Yet there is a striking similarity they all have – I’m doing something I love to do.”
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in pursuing a similar path?
“Follow your dream. When speaking to young children, I make it a point to remind them that their education should be a first and foremost priority.
‘I look back and am thankful for the opportunities that have I have been blessed with. Additionally, don’t take for granted what you have currently.
“I try to be honest when speaking to people about the position – ‘looks can be deceiving.’ While it may look easy, that is far from the truth.”