HOLDEN, Maine — Jordan Harnish received a memorable graduation present last weekend.
Harnish, who graduated from Bangor High School last month, is the flagman at Hermon’s Speedway 95 and he found himself on the flagstand at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for Sprint Cup qualifying at the Camping World RV Sales 301 on Friday and for practice on Saturday morning.
“My parents sent an email to Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing operations, and told him they would like to do something fun for me for my graduation present,” explained Harnish.
That present was the opportunity to be the flagger for one qualifying run, the one for Kasey Kahne.
“But halfway through [Kahne’s two-lap run], the flagman told me to stay up there and I flagged for seven or eight more drivers,” said Harnish. “I was nervous at first. I’ve never had that many people watching behind me before.”
For qualifying, the flagger waves the green flag to initiate the driver’s first lap, shows him the white flag to start the second and final qualifying lap and the checkered flag when the driver has completed the second run.
“After the qualifying, they asked me to come back for Saturday morning’s practice,” said Harnish.
That entailed waving the green flag for the start of practice and being ready to bring out the yellow if there was a wreck or somebody spun out, but nobody did.
“It was definitely the best experience I have ever had at a racetrack,” said Harnish.
He and his parents also had hot passes, which enabled them to walk through the pit area and around the haulers and garages where the teams worked on the race cars.
“The best part was being able to walk through the pits among the drivers and getting a chance to talk to a few of them and get pictures with them,” said Harnish, who spent a little time with Kyle Busch and Joey Logano.
He was accompanied by his father, Mike, and stepmother, Laura. His mother, Jody Benner, and stepfather, Larry Benner, went on Saturday to watch him flag the practice session.
Harnish, who lives in Holden, comes from a racing family. His grandfather and father were racers.
Jordan used to entertain race fans by sitting in the stands at age “5 or 6” and mimicking the flagman with his own set of flags.
He eventually made it to the flag stand when he was 10, helping out Jeff Overlock during Wacky Wednesday racing at Speedway 95.
He was later hired by Wiscasset Raceway owner Doug White to flag their races, but when White put the track up for sale, Hermon native Harnish wound up at Speedway 95 where he flags both the Saturday night and Wacky Wednesday racecards.
He tried racing briefly.
“It was fun but it wasn’t something I wanted to do every weekend. I’d rather be up on the flag stand. Plus you don’t lose money flagging. You lose a ton racing,” said Harnish.
He said he enjoys the feeling of the cars flying by you and being close to the racers and experiencing the power and speed of the cars.
“The toughest part is making the right call every time. You have to be as consistent as possible,” said the 18-year-old Harnish, who confers with track personnel located on the track and with head scorer and office manager Kim Baker Allen in the press box when they have to make a decision.
Harnish was punched several times in the face by a family member of a teenage driver he had to black-flag, or disqualify, in 2010.
But he never hesitated about returning.
“That was the worst experience I’ve ever had. But you are going to tick people off. You just have to roll with it,” said Harnish, who is also a hockey referee.
Harnish, who makes $45-$50 a night flagging, will attend Bangor’s Beal College, seeking a degree in law enforcement in the fall. He also works at the Bangor Public Library and is a flagger for the North East Mini Stock Tour when he isn’t flagging at Speedway 95.
Not surprisingly, he would eventually love to man the flagstand for a NASCAR series.
And now he knows what it feels like.