by: Eric Danielsen
The NCR Board of Directors happily accepted Pete Romanowski’s offer to step into the position of Chief Starter. After James Buckberry passed away last month, his position needed to be filled. Pete is already Chief Starter for South Carolina Region and the Petit Le Mans. As a member of the North Carolina Region, it’s fitting that he volunteers to play Chief Starter at VIR.
He plays Chief so well. “I do it for the love of the sport” says Pete, “someone has to do it (Chief Starter), I’m the logical choice. I’ve stepped in for James before. Ten years ago at Kershaw, James asked me to be Chief for the first time, when he couldn’t make it,” Pete recalls.
He’s going to miss James Buckberry. “James and I were like brothers. We’d take care of each other. We’d talk after the races back at the hotel. James used to get up early and leave a cup of coffee for me outside my door. I’m going to miss the little things like that” Pete reminisces.
“I’m not going to do this forever. Hopefully by the end of next Spring I’ll have someone to take my place as Chief Starter” dreams Pete.
When asked, what is the key to success? Pete tells us, “Once the Green Flag is shown, Start becomes another corner station. It’s like a corner station with extra duties. That’s the way I’ve always felt about it”
He should know. He’s been flagging since the 70’s.
Romanowski’s first memory of racing was the sound of the cars. “It was in Europe somewhere; I only remember the sound.”
Born in Essen, West Germany in 1946 Pete was 10 years old when his family moved to Buffalo NY. The first race he remembers attending was the 1969 Can-Am race at Watkins Glen where he saw Bruce McLaren win. When he moved to Florida he began volunteering as a corner marshall at Palm Beach International Raceway “before they changed its name to Moroso. Now it’s back to PBIR,” Pete informs us.
“My ‘Swamp Rat’ name was ‘Bearded Rat,’” Pete shares, “ask Chuck (Stanley) what his ‘Swamp Rat’ name was.”
“We didn’t need a license back then; nobody thought about insurance. I started in 1976 and didn’t join SCCA until ’79.”
He’s “worked” all the stuff down in Florida: Daytona, Sebring, Pro, and Club races.
When there wasn’t a race, he would autocross, or drive in TSD rallies, or whatever else was going on that had to do with cars.
He received his National F&C License before getting National Starter. He’s worked as Corner Captain just about everywhere he’s been, most notably, as the Captain of Turn 5 during the 24-Hours of Daytona for 15 years.
Captains of the 24 staff their own turn and run it like a Flag Chief. “I recruited my own people, set up the rotation, and dealt with any problems. Sometimes I had to chew somebody out, I tell it like it is, but I never lost anybody…they always came back”, Pete says with his gravelly voice.
Known as “Uncle Pete” to countless flaggers, Romanowski has endeared himself to so many Marshals and Starters. As he keeps them “straight”, Pete never forgets the fun, “You gotta keep it fun, or they won’t come back.”
Pete obviously has fun with flags in his hand, because he’s been coming back for a long time. Rest assured he is not going to retire just yet, “I’m going to be wherever I’m needed,” he confirms.