Oliver enthusiastic about checkered past, present

by brooke pryor sports@gazette.com - Published: June 30, 2013 | 11:45 pm 0

For Brian Oliver, Christmas came early.

Decked out in a black-and-white checkered sweater vest, the 52-year-old Colorado Springs native stands at the finish line of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, brandishing two checkered flags at every car and motorcycle that crosses the finish line of the 12.42 mile course.

As drivers approach, Oliver picks up his flags and begins gently waving them at his side. When he spots the driver coming around the sharp bend, Oliver enthusiastically waves the flags, sometimes hopping up on the orange concrete barrier along the road that signifies the end of the course.

Though it's cold and sleeting, Oliver still stands at his post, a wide grin on his face, waving in drivers and talking with ones who've already finished their race.

Oliver is relatively new to finish-line flagging at the summit of Pikes Peak - he's only done it for three years - but he's a Hill Climb veteran that worked on the safety crew for the race for nearly 20 years.

He learned his exuberant flagging skills from former finish-line flagman Art Walsh, who held the position for 40 years.

The sweater Oliver wears for his finish-line flagging duties was made for Walsh by his mother years ago, and though Walsh is now deceased, his girlfriend insisted that Oliver wear it.

"It's my dedication every year to wear this because I feel Art gave me something and right now I'm a head flagman at El Paso County Speedway," Oliver said.

Oliver embraces his role as the Hill Climb's finish-line flagman, and he is outgoing and warm to everyone involved in the race.

"Everyone likes him, he's friendly with everyone," Oliver's girlfriend Lori Ross said. "He likes what he does.

"Most of the drivers know him because he's been around so long."

This year, Oliver started what could become a new tradition of collecting signatures from all race participants on his checkered flags with the intention of donating them to the new museum dedicated to the race.

Though Oliver loves his role in the annual race, the day is often about more than just the flagging.

"Up here I feel close to my maker, I feel close to my dad, I feel close to Art, everybody I've ever lost," Oliver said. "And every time I wave those flags, it's like 'dad, I'm doing okay down here I'm going to see you one of these days."

Since he first saw him flagging as a young boy, Oliver looked up to Walsh. Now, inspired by his friend and mentor, Oliver runs a junior flagman program at the El Paso County Speedway to encourage youth like Aaron Jackson to continue in his footsteps.

"Great kid, he's autistic, and getting him into doing the flagging and I'm hoping to leave or instill him with what Art put into me," Oliver said.

"And I feel if you don't hand it down, you're only one link in the chain, and one link in the chain is not going to continue the sport."

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