Friday, September 25, 2009

We Knew Him When.....


Start to finish, he's in charge

Justin Galle became track’s starter at age 15

By RUSS GOODALL Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle

Sept. 24, 2009, 10:25PM

Justin Galle loves racing and the flags that go with it. You can probably thank his grandmother for that. She made him his first set of racing flags when he was just 11 years old.

Today, Galle is 18 and a freshman at the University of Texas in Austin, but you can see him during every live racing event on the oval at Houston Motorsports Park in the flagstand keeping all the drivers in check. “I have always loved racing, especially NASCAR, but was always attracted to the people in the flagstand waving flags more than the actual racing,” said Galle, who grew up in Houston and is a recent graduate of Langham Creek High School.

With his desire to be involved at a young age, Galle began hanging out at HMP and eventually, at 14, became the back-up for the starter. Just one year later, at 15, Galle took over as the full-time starter and is now in his fourth year at HMP as the controller of the racing traffic from atop his perch over the start/finish line at the 3⁄8-mile high-banked paved oval.

And he couldn't be having more fun.

“I just love the fact that one person can control heavy, fast machines by waving the flags,” Galle said. “You are out and visible to everyone like you are the one that knows what you are doing … especially at a short track.” On the short track at HMP, Galle's day begins early.

He is at the track by 11:30 a.m. for practice that begins just after noon. He spends the next four hours in the flagstand, keeping control of the cars on the track. After practice ends around 4:30 p.m., Galle heads over to attend the officials meeting at 4:45 p.m., before getting his first real break of the day.

“Justin brings a great deal of professionalism and consistency,” HMP racing director Sarah Mandabach said. “He is extremely dependable and a fantastic flagman, a very valuable part of the HMP Team.”

After a quick bite to eat, Galle is back in the flagstand for the night of racing that starts at 6 p.m. and doesn't end until the final feature of the night is finished, usually sometime around 10:30 p.m.

“The best part of being a flagman would have to be the rush of the cars underneath,” Galle said. “Also, the fact that you are responsible for all the drivers' safety and have control over the race itself for the most part.”

As for a future in the sport, Galle is under no illusions that he might be headed to the big time of NASCAR someday, although he is not completely ruling it out.

”It is possible (to make this a career), but there are very few spots at the top levels of racing for this position,” Galle said. “So that is why I am going to school to get a mechanical engineering degree, so I can stay involved in racing. But you never know, if you are in the right place at the right time, things might just work out.”

However, for now he is content in waving the green (start), white (one lap to go), yellow (caution), red (halt competition), black (must pit for infraction), black with a white ‘X' (no longer being scored), blue with an orange diagonal orange line (move over) and checkered (finish) flags on Saturday nights at HMP.

“I want to continue waving flags as long as I can,” Galle said.

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