Dennis Paul nearly didn't make it to the start of Saturday's American Le Mans Series race. Considering that Paul has served as the starter since the circuit began in 1999, and has only missed two races in North America, his absence might have been noticed in Baltimore.
Paul lives in New Orleans, where he teaches pharmacology at the Louisiana State University medical school. Paul arrived in town late Friday night, and thought for awhile that his flight might not make it out because of Hurricane Isaac.
Being a starter is not simply having the ability to wave a flag, or doing it with some flair. There are actually nine different flags, beginning with the green to start the race and the checkered to finish it.
"It's actually like a language with nine words in it that we communicate with the drivers," Paul said.
Paul admits that on one occasion, at a race in Long Beach, Calif., two years ago, he raised the wrong-colored flag.
"You're supposed to throw a white flag for a slow moving vehicle and I pulled out a flag that's white on top and black on the bottom that is a warning flag for the drivers who are doing something bad," Paul recalled. "Fortunately it was a very minor thing. I threw it and grabbed the right flag."
A diehard LSU fan, Paul was hoping not to miss his favorite team's season opener Saturday night.
"I'm hoping to find a bar that has it on TV," Paul said.