Motorsports is an expensive place to learn life lessons. A lot of us have been educated on things the tough way in the School of Hard Knocks that we call road racing. Those knocks are real and they are certainly hard and they definitely bend metal. My team, Double Nickel Nine Motorsports, has its share of bent metal, molten aluminum, and cracked wheels from a few of those life lessons. Instead of tossing these broken parts in the trash or recycler, we decided to bolt them to the wall as a future reminder of mistakes made and — we hope — lessons learned. We call it “The Wall of Shame” and unfortunately it is now on multiple walls.
When we built our shop, I had no intentions of decorating it with a bunch of broken racecar parts. To be honest, I ignorantly didn’t think I would amass such a collection of damaged stuff. I thought I was just “that good,” that I would avoid contact and cruise to the front unhindered by the trials and tribulations that motorsports brings. Then, “Wham!” I was hit in the first corner of the first lap of my first Honda Challenge race. I had a bent door as a reminder of just how much of a contact sport road racing can be. I also learned, I wasn’t that good.
I came from endurance racing where the drivers around me understood we all needed these cars to last 24 to 25 hours and because of that we gave each other the space we each required to each see the finish line. When I jumped into sprint racing, I found that I would be hit more times in a single 30-minute sprint race that I was in 75 hours of endurance racing. Those hits equaled bent sheet metal. I also learned that driving a car to last — as in endurance racing — and driving a car until it is inside out — like in sprint racing — certainly damages more internal parts.
My teammate on Double Nickel Nine Motorsports is Keith Kramer. He and I shared a Honda Challenge car during one season, he would drive on Saturday and I would drive on Sunday. In NASA SoCal the Honda Challenge drivers referred to us as Sabado — Spanish for Saturday for Keith — and Domingo — Spanish for Sunday for me. Team Sabado and Domingo spent a lot of Sabado nights fixing the car before the green flag on Domingo. That season of Honda Challenge was brutal.
As we started collecting more and more bent sheet metal we decided to bolt some of it on the wall of our shop as a stark reminder not to do it again. It became known as The Wall of Shame. Since we were sharing the car and the blame — and the costs — for some of the damage, we used our favorite shop tool, our Brother P-Touch label maker, to label each piece with the driver’s name who caused the damage. This way we could walk through the shop and talk trash to one another. Everyone knows the key to a successful relationship is keeping score.
I can’t blame all of the things that are on the Wall of Shame on car-to-car contact. Sometimes we just decided to blow ourselves up, lunch transmissions, and send rods out of the sides of blocks. Those were real lessons learned. We decided to include those lessons on the wall. Pistons, rocker arms, valves, you name it. If a car has it, we probably bent it and having it hanging on the wall at this point. The Wall of Shame just seems to continue to grow.
The intended outcome of the Wall of Shame was working on the team. Nobody wanted to be the guy who wrecked something and would have to hang it on the wall with their name on it for everyone to see. It was embarrassing. We learned from every collision to use better race craft and we learned from every broken mechanical part how to build a better car. As time went along, we stopped putting up broken parts and started putting up trophies.
Ultimately, the Wall of Shame taught us an enormous amount. We learned how to use a stud finder to make sure when we were bolting a heavy fender to some drywall it would be secured. We also learned how to use a bubble level to ensure our pieces of art were level and pleasing to the eye. And we also learned not to crash into stuff and blow up engines. The Wall reminded us of what didn’t work and taught us not to repeat our mistakes.
Additionally, the wall of shame is there for bench racing and trash talking. Racecar drivers love to relive old glories. Whether it is an empty bottle of champagne from a podium celebration or a crumpled fender, each has a story to tell and the memento is the bottle or the fender. Our shop has both on display. So, next time you do something stupid on a race track and you come home with a bent keepsake, start your own Wall of Shame and learn from your mistakes. For some of us hard headed drivers, it might be the only way to get better.
Soch Adventures and Vlogs stopped by the Double Nickel Nine Motorsports shop and put together a tour of the Wall of Shame, which includes lots of bench racing and trash talking.
Rob Krider is a four-time NASA Honda Challenge 4 National Champion and the author of the novel, “Cadet Blues.”