Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride

In his book, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” writer Hunter S. Thompson wrote the words I used for the headline of this column. Those six words were part of a longer quote, which I’ve included below:

“No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride … and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well … maybe chalk it up to forced consciousness expansion: Tune in, freak out, get beaten.”

I’ve read nearly all of Thompson’s books, including collections of his personal letters. Back when he was at his most productive, Thompson’s perspectives were often spot-on, and most of them still resonate to this day.

As in life, racing can get a little heavier than what I had in mind, but as Thompson pointed out, that’s how the game unfolds. When you make choices in life, you have essentially signed on in advance for the unforeseen, for good or ill. When I decided to take up racing, I knew crashes were one of its elements. I park that thought deep in the back of my mind when I suit up, but it doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

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It can, and it did, in what has to have been an instance of the worst possible timing: the first event in a new car. Some fluid in a fast turn led to a spin and collect. The repairs are going to require a trip to the body shop frame machine. It’s fixable, but it won’t be cheap, especially to fix it properly. My racing budget being what it is, I’m out for the year.

The whole experience reminded me of a “Green Flag” column NASA National Chairman Ryan Flaherty wrote a few years ago in which he described racecar crashes as “miserable.” I think he wrote it not long after he was involved in a serious incident at Willow Springs, the kind of crash that makes you disregard the condition of the car because you’re glad you were able to walk away. I’ve never had one that bad, but all crashes are invariably, as he put it, miserable. Buy the ticket, take the ride.

I’ve had conversations with other racers over the years about crashes, and one of my racing friends noted that he had “written off” three cars since he began racing years ago. The irony was that he said it with a smile. Maybe he’s read Hunter Thompson.

There is a sort of grieving that follows a crash, with each of the five stages of the Kubler-Ross model of grief coming into play: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. We studied the Kubler-Ross model a bit when I was in grad school, and the odd thing is that it’s not a linear process. You can go back and forth across the stages until you accept it. Ryan called it a funk, which seems fitting. It’s worth noting that a crash is not helpful to a marriage, either.

The prevailing wisdom is to learn from the experience and get back on the horse. That is the plan. Part of that plan is to return to the gym, not only for strength training, but also for the mental health benefits that accompany it. I figure the gym, a daily supplement of Ashwaghanda root and some quality time with my dog will be helpful to getting me out of the funk.

A good friend of mine once said, “If your biggest problem is a crashed racecar, your life can’t be too bad.” I heard him say that on the way home from an event in which he bent his car. He was either spot-on or deep in the throes of what psychologist Leon Festinger called cognitive dissonance. It could swing either way.

Buy the ticket. Take the ride. Write the check. Then get back on the horse.

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