Harrison TWP, MI - One of the more imitated jobs in motorsports is that of the Head Starter. For Rusty Daggett, his job "twirling the sticks" started as a troubled racing career that couldn't get off the ground. Then, the next and most successful chapter of his career took off and he hasn't looked back yet.
The story seems to start out the same way. A young child goes to the racetrack for the first time, and falls in love with the sport. Rusty’s story isn’t much different. He was 8 years old the first time he walked into the gates at Auto City Speedway and was hooked from that very first moment. He attended regularly, but at age 11, he built and raced his own Soap Box Derby car in the Flint area. By age 18, he was ready to get more involved in the sport and built his first racecar. That car didn’t last long and Rusty had to build another, and another. Rusty didn’t jump behind the wheel himself until he was 20 and raced a year at Dixie Speedway and was Rookie of the Year in the Sportsman class.
Funding kept him from continuing to race, but he still wanted to be a part of it all. That’s when he met Bill Lennox, longtime flagman. Rusty started assisting Bill in 1970 and that was the beginning of a now 43 year career waving flags for Auto City & Dixie Speedways. In 1970, when Rusty started as a flagman, things were a lot different than they are today. Rusty was on the inside of the track, while Bill was on the outside. They would communicate with each other using hand signals. Back then, Auto City was still a dirt track. Rusty would get to the track early to help prepare it for the night’s activities. Hours of watering and running laps to get the track just right was a regular Saturday for Rusty during this time. He loved it. Rusty stayed on the inside of the track right up until one of the facilities insurance agents came out to see some racing and noticed what a dangerous position he was in. Rusty only had a light pole and a small guardrail to protect him from any car that may get out of control. Rusty’s speed saved him numerous times. Once this was mandated, Rusty didn’t feel right being on the outside all the time. So to this very day, he stands in the flag stand until a yellow flag comes out. Rusty then will climb down, go on the track, and communicate with the drivers. No one does this like Rusty does, it is his claim to fame. Every race, he is on the inside, twirling his flags, letting the drivers know that it’s 1 more lap until the green flag flies. It is a sight to behold. Anyone that has ever watched racing at Auto City knows that Rusty is going to put on his own show right before the race begins. He starts every race from down there. He’s goes trackside every yellow flag, and is there to greet the winner at every checkered flag. He is truly one of a kind!!!
Rusty is a beloved figure at Auto City. On autograph night, the line to get Rusty’s autograph is just as long as any driver. He is one of the most approachable track employees you will ever meet. He speaks with any child, or fan for that matter, who seeks his attention. In 1973, he received the Dr. Mertz Award for the person who best shows a passion and love for the sport of auto racing.
Unlike a lot of flagmen, he has earned the respect of every driver that has turned a lap at either track he has flagged at. He has done this by giving respect first. He understands that when a driver pulls up to him on the track, they’re usually not in their best mood, and may be upset with something that has just happened. Even though the driver may be taking it out on Rusty, he just listens and tries to advise the best he can in the given situation.
Story - Michigan Motorsports Hall of Fame