52 JULY 2020 scca.comFRONT LINE
Central Florida Region
worker Larry Kurkowski is
where the races begin
WORDS Jim Kearney | IMAGE Philip RoyleSTARTINGIT ALL
He’s old school and proud of it. Larry was first involved with the SCCA in Juneof 1958. He was living in Rochester, Minn.,when a friend asked him to navigate forhim in a RoadRally, which he did up until
1970. In the early 1980s, Larry movedto Jacksonville, Fla., and became activeas a flagger, particularly at Daytona andSebring. “I was the corner captain at Turn 6at Daytona, which was a very active area,”he recalls. “Plus, when cars missed the turninto the infield at Turn 1, they came right atus. I had a ball and I’d still be flagging if myknees weren’t so bad.” It’s no lie – in fact,he has worked the 24 Hours of Daytona 20times and the 12 Hours of Sebring 15 times.
When he lived near Chicago in the late
1980s, Larry became Chief of Flaggingand Communications. In 1992, he wasat Blackhawk Farms and they were shortof starters, so he got the nod. “I was kindof nervous as it was my first time in thatposition,” he explains. “The thing is that youcan’t move. If you so much as blink, theytake off on you.” That first start experienceinvolved a field of Formula Continentalsand, Larry says, everyone behavedthemselves. “It went perfectly,” he says.
“It sort of whet my appetite for more.”
It wasn’t until 1997 that he next got
the call to climb into the start stand, this
time at Roebling Road. “There is a very long
approach there and you have to focus to
stand still that long,” he notes. Since then,
this has been Larry’s primary role, starting an
estimated 400 to 500 races, from Club races
to Trans Am to World Challenge and vintage
events. He was once the back-up starter
at the St. Petersburg IndyCar Grand Prix.
So, can anyone do it? Larry feels
strongly that a starter should have an
F&C background. “They need to know
the flags and be up to speed on the lingo
so they can handle the phone chatter.
And I think they have to want to do it.
“The most important thing is to relax,”
Larry continues. “If you are tense, you will
have a hard time standing still. And, if you
are edgy, it’s more difficult to pay attention
to everything.” For beginning starters,
there will be another starter standing
immediately behind them to give them a
nudge when the time is right to throw the
green. “We tell them that at this moment,
they are it. Some folks have a hard time with
this and may decide it is not for them.”
It’s also important, Larry notes, that
they not look for the perfect start. “There
is just too much to control,” he says. “I look
at the first three to five rows. You can’t
take in all the cars. On a long approach like
Sebring, they might get jumpy. You follow
your instincts and make your best call.”
Larry says that sometimes you give a
green and regret it. “Early on that happened
to me once and I realized that I was
concerned about keeping us on schedule.
The stewards told me afterward to let them
worry about that issue – and they were right.”
Every race is important but there is no
denying that the pressure is high at the Runoffs,
where Larry has been on the start team
since 2007 and has been the Chief Starter
since 2009. “It definitely is a more pressured
situation than it has been all season,” he admits.
“It is everyone’s final go-round for the year and
their chance at a National Championship.”
Every track presents a different challenge,
not just for drivers but for starters, as well. At
Brainard, due to safety fencing, it’s difficult
for the inside row to see the starter until
the flag is actually waved. At Road America,
the starter can see the field move though
the final turn but then loses sight of them
as they go through a dip at the bottom of
the hill approaching the start line. “You
better be ready for them because they
often come up the hill at full tilt,” he says.
VIR has its own issues, too. “Because
of the kink approaching the start line, you
can only see the first four rows,” he says.
“You can hold open-wheel cars longer as
you are hanging right over them, but if you
want drivers with a roof over their head to
see the flag, you need to wave it earlier.”
Larry was at VIR during the 2019
Runoffs where SCCA President and CEO
Mike Cobb and SCCA’s Director of Road
Racing Deanna Flanagan presented him with
the Starter Worker of the Year Award, and
while he’s grateful, he also knows nothing
lasts forever. Consequently, Larry plans to
make 2020 his last year as an active worker.
“I just have too many orthopedic issues,”
he admits. But rest assured, racers, that the
knowledge he’s earned on the start stand
will be expertly passed to others who hold
the green flag. He’s old school that way.
SCCA’S STELLAR WORKERS