The Five Stages of a Tech Violation

If you know anything about grief – and who doesn’t? – you might be familiar with the Kubler-Ross model, the infamous five stages of grief, so named for Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the psychiatrist who created it. We studied it a bit in grad school, and so I could remember each stage come test time, I came up with a mnemonic acronym: DABDA. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

If you think back to the last time you experienced some form of grief, it’s likely you can trace your path through these conditions. Kubler-Ross pointed out that it isn’t a linear, one-way path, but one in which people can skip and vacillate among the five stages before making their way all the way to the other side, which brings me to the point.

Having witnessed enough tech shed violations that have resulted in disqualifications over the years, I’ve noticed some similarities between the Kubler-Ross model of grief and a DQ. This might seem a bit squishy, so bear with me as I try to draw a tongue-in-cheek parallel between the two. The model is still a developing theory, and certainly not a serious one, so it likely will need tweaking.

First things first, let’s outline the list of stages of a DQ so we all can remember it come test time. As luck would have it, there are probably five stages: denial, second-stage denial, demand of proof, acceptance, ownership.

Identical the Kubler-Ross model, denial is the first step after tech violation. “That’s not illegal,” is among the first things you’ll hear. It’s similar to gaslighting, which has become more and more common in the public sphere lately. The mere utterance of those words will have the tech inspector rechecking the rules just to make sure the infraction in question is, in fact, not legal.

There’s a second stage of denial that can take place, and that goes something like, “I didn’t know that was part was on my car,” or “I didn’t know that was illegal,” or words to that effect. In court, a judge will tell you that ignorance of the law is no excuse. It’s such a common human condition that a subplot in one “Seinfeld” episode touched on it.

In that episode, George Costanza had sex with the cleaning woman on his desk in his office, and when he gets called out for it, he said, “Was that wrong? Should I not have done that? I tell you, I’ve got to plead ignorance on this thing, because if anyone had said anything to me at all when I first started here that that sort of thing was frowned upon … because I’ve worked in a lot of offices and I tell you, people do that all the time.”

Of course, for cars driven by someone who doesn’t work on the car, there is some plausible deniability there, but it’s the driver who gets DQ’d, so it’s essential for him or her to know whether a car is legal.

Once it’s established that the tech inspector’s findings are correct, there often comes a demand of proof. A driver will say, “Show me in the rulebook where it says this is illegal,” or “What specific section of the rules disallows this?” As with applications of the law, this isn’t always an easy thing to do, and sometimes it takes more than one section of the rulebook to prove an infraction. Tech inspectors have to know this, and how to prove it, before asserting something is illegal.

The fourth stage is acceptance, which can manifest itself or be accompanied by resignation and apathy. “Whatever. It doesn’t matter,” or “Do what you’ve got to do,” is a likely refrain. In the Kubler-Ross model, acceptance is the last stage, but in this case, it’s the penultimate.

In this model, ownership is the last stage, and it’s the point at which everyone can move on peacefully. Forgiven and forgotten. This is where the driver owns the mistake or infraction, or whatever you want to call it, fixes the car and comes back to compete again with his or her racing buddies.

That last part is the most important.


  1. It’s important that we realize that not all tech violations are committed with intent. The stages you describe are easily followed by both those with intent and those without intent to the issue discovered.

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