To The Racer Who Wrecked his Car

If you race long enough and truly race… pushing the limits to reach that edge where you experience the BEST of your car and yourself, you will have a wreck. It may be minor or it might be major. It might hurt your pride with scratches on your paint and a slight ding… or it may be that the only salvageable part of your car is your gas pedal. It is always possible at any time. It might be caused by a slight brain fart, it might be totally externally caused (gravel kicked up by another driver, oil or water spilled on track, etc.) or it may be totally due to a part failure… an innocent little lug bolt or a heim joint or brake rotor… or boiling brake fluid that you never could have seen coming. It may be caused by another driver that makes a mistake… or damage resulting from another accident. IT IS A PART OF RACING.
At the PRO ride level, drivers have a team of mechanics and crew that check every little part, check every bolt, fluids and scour the car to be sure it is at its best every second you are behind the wheel. For most of us who race at the amateur level, that is a crew of one and he is also the driver. We are responsible for torquing bolts, checking fluids… all of those little facets and… then getting behind the wheel and driving at our best. It is a lot to expect and sometimes, things go awry… and a wreck occurs. I rolled 2 cars in 5 years and I remember them both quite well. Well, one of them is still a little fuzzy.
There are two parts of dealing with wrecking your race car :
1. The loss – it was your baby, you spent many late night hours, machining parts, and calculating gear ratios, planning for set ups for specific events, making the cockpit comfy… it became a habitat for YOU. Losing that car in a wreck is a loss of the heart and a loss of a lot of investment in time and money. That loss hurts. There are no words that anyone can say to make you feel better. No one can turn back the clock or make the car all whole again. That habitat has ceased to exist…and the grief for a racer can be akin to a divorce or death of a close friend. It takes time. You may want to choke the guy that caused it. You may even be out spoken to friends and on the internet on his “obvious lack of skill” or even give him a piece of your mind.
2. The pride- The fact you had that car you loved so much and it is no longer in existence is damaging to pride. You have to face all your friends, family and fellow racers and they know… you wrecked your car. It is humiliating and humbling. It is embarrassing. You feel eyes on you saying “I sure am glad I’m not that loser.” It makes you want to curl up in your trailer in a ball and just cry. No matter how you slice it… that ship went down while you were the captain. You will live with that and you will never forget it…. what it was, how much you enjoyed it, what happened in the wreck and how much you miss it. Internally, you feel it is a poster board to your poor driving skills or your bad luck and misfortune for all the world to see. Bluntly put… it sucks.
Let me give you a different perspective on these 2 areas.
1. The loss – yes it hurts, yes it hurts the pocketbook, yes it takes time to grieve and get it out of your system. Yes you may have to face your spouse and say I’m sorry. (“This is what you do for fun?”) Yes it may take a while to recoup. But the fact is… IT IS PART OF RACING. If you have a wreck, lose interest in racing and walk away, then you did the right thing by stopping at that point. Racing was an aversion and it was fun but you found the limit of that kind of fun and walked away. Good for you. That’s okay. But if you are a real racer, you will rebuild. May be a new car. You will come back. You will have a better car. You will do to it all the things you wished you had done with your first one. It will be better… and YOU will be a better driver too. You gained knowledge and wisdom and you are still on your racing journey. Once you have had an experience like that, survived it and built another car… and gone back to racing? You have a responsibility. That responsibility is when you see a guy a guy who has had a wreck in his car and is going through what you did, help him out. Buy him dinner. Let him vent and encourage him… and let him know there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel. Help him remember… it is worth it and why we do it.
2. The pride – Ego is at the core of all racing. Drivers spend millions of dollars every year on widgets and gizmos that they think their competitor is using … and THAT is the only reason they are winning. We all want to win and we all believe we are better than the other guy. But ego is not just what we think of ourselves. It is also how we think others perceive us. The things you think and feel after wrecking your car are misleading. You are upset and not thinking clearly. NO ONE is talking about you negatively. No one is demeaning your skills. What you are seeing is sympathy and empathy. No one thinks less of you or your skills. (If there is anyone who does… they are an idiot and you shouldn’t care what they think.) REAL drivers understand. They respect you, they feel for you. They understand. They wish they could help and they know saying “glad you are okay…” is just words. You are not a fool. You weren’t street racing. You were racing on a closed environment, with proper gear and properly built car with emergency vehicles on hand. You were racing intelligently. Suck up the pride.
Accept the responsibility for what you did and accept that it was a risk you took by putting your car on track. When you win, you and your car did it. .. and when you wreck, you and your car did it. IT IS A PART OF RACING. It is not a matter of if… if you are truly competing and pushing your car… it is a matter of when. We used to say, “If you can’t afford to soak the car in gasoline, drop a match on it and walk away, you have no business putting it on track.” You are taking a risk every time you are on track and if you are not willing to take that risk, then you and your car don’t belong there.
Drivers have egos. We all know that. So if you are involved in an accident, the first impulse is to blame someone else. If it was someone else that was at fault, then it does not reflect on YOU as a driver. Testosterone kicks in, you want to punch someone and get revenge. Truth is, it is very seldom that any one intentionally causes a wreck as it may cause as much or more damage to their car as it does to someone else’s car. In the heat of the moment, it’s hard to see you did ANYTHING wrong at the time.  In many cases, a cooler head will acknowledge they are partially responsible for what happened or other driver could not have avoided the incident (other guy had no where to go, debri blocking safe escape, oil/water on track, broken parts giving other driver no control, car stopping in drivers line, poor visibility due to smoke or crest of hill, etc.). No one is going to pay for your car repairs but you have a right to complain to the sanctioning body and ask for them to investigate poor driving and incidents. THEY are responsible for licensing and conducting the event and can do something about it… while whining to your friends and on the internet forums is childish and fruitless except to get some sympathy and attention.

Mario Andretti once said “If you don’t come walking back to the pits every once in a while holding a steering wheel in your hands, you’re not trying hard enough.”
Get through the bad stuff of dealing with the aftermath of a wreck, so you can get back to the good stuff. Every ending is the beginning of something new and likely, it will be better. Continued success in life, love and racing. – Dr. Ted E. Bayer
Article by Ted Theodore
Copyright 2008 – No reprint without written consent of author and The Southern Driver