Jason Burgess has added to his job as an IndyCar spotter – a profession spent as far away from the spotlight as possible – with a new position in the sport that’s impossible to miss.
Burgess, who helped coach Alexander Rossi home to victory at the 2016 Indy 500 from atop Turn 1, can still be found with his binoculars and radio headset high in the sky, and on free weekends, he’s outfitted in retro threads carrying greens and checkers to flag everything from vintage IndyCar events to karting showdowns. The Hoosier says he’s determined to channel the charisma of Indy’s flamboyant flaggers from the 1950s and ’60s.
“When I haven’t been traveling around the country as a spotter for the last 10 years I have been officiating and been the assistant flagman in karting for the Southern Indiana Racing Association,” Burgess told RACER. “Tony Weiske has been their head flagman for 20 years and was unavailable for a race in 2014, and I was drafted in. So, there I am, a full set of flags, low to the ground, I’m jumping, and it was insanity. But it worked, and I realized I brought something to the table that very few people do these days.”
Fellow IndyCar spotter Mike Burrell, who works with USAC and its new karting venture, brought Burgess in last summer to bring his animated flagging to the series, and from there, the requests continue to land.
“It was a hit! It was the purest thing I have ever witnessed in motorsports,” Burgess added. “And as a head flagman, the response was overwhelming from the teams. But for me, the best compliments that I had been given were from the drivers that didn’t win: ‘I was having a bad day and was getting ready to pull off of the track, but then I came by and saw your sign board, it made me laugh the rest of the race. But it made me want to finish and not quit.’ That was the key, watching over the race and the competitors; it had made been difference maker to people.”
Honoring the old school starters who dressed impeccably and were fountains of style and enthusiasm has driven Burgess’ approach.
“I love looking back at the history of motorsports, and when you go back to the 1960s, it wasn’t about putting logos on the officials that might be seen by a camera for half of a second,” he said. “It was style and class. The cars were unique, hand painted, and built by hand. But then there was the flagman: He’s wearing a suit coat, standing feet away from the cars, jumping, entertaining, putting on a show while doing his job. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see that very much anymore. I look at Bill Vandewater, Pat Vidan, Glen Dix, and the modern flagging style of Kevin Clark: It’s unique. It brings something to the table that we usually don’t get to see anymore.”
Burgess, decked out in his white coat and black chapeau, has been added to the Vintage Indy Registry’s roster for one or more of its events supporting the Verizon IndyCar Series next year, and with more flagging jobs pouring in, full-time spotting could take a backseat in 2018.
“I’m not done with spotting, but this increase in flagging may limit the regular races that I go after,” he said. “I’ll be back at the 24 Hours of Daytona with a new team, and I’m very excited for that. I’ll also be back with Andretti Autosport for the month of May. I bought a house a mile away from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to live in its shadows for good reason. Once you win at Indy, you want it again. I definitely have unfinished business from the spotter stand.
“But this is opening up my eyes to the possibilities. Unfortunately to me, the modern-day flag stand is missing the romantic touch of the head flagman being at the edge of the track as the cars go by. I can definitely adapt to not walking along the edge of the track…but I hope that I can still wear the tie.”