Guest Post: Finding The Wall

Before a rapport is formed with the Wall, all of the chaotic black marks leading to it are abstract. They’re what happens when one makes a mistake, which of course, the person who has never hit the Wall would never do. That person knows their limits and probes them safely. That person knows what they’re doing.

But that person has never met the Wall, so they know nothing. At some point, the Wall must be there to receive them.


The Wall is a constant. It appears in many forms; metal, stone, concrete, leafy green. It may be so far away that it’s out of sight, out of mind. But go far enough, only so far, and you’ll find it. Sometimes, it’s right there, an immediate possibility, reminding you of its ultimatum, urging discipline.

The racing surface itself tells a story in greyscale. Some of it is polished dark by hot rubber, good days. Other areas seem pale and neglected, dirty, deserted, trying to express that there is no good reason to be at this precise point right now. Then, there are bold strokes on the background. Streaks of pure, deep black standing against the gradient, sometimes straight, sometimes looping like a cruel cursive or spearing off in impossible directions like an unknowable foreign language, but all usually leading to an acutely clear and specific moment in someone’s time. The lines lead to the Wall.

Round marks and a streak of color, and then more lines. Torn-up grass and a brand new piece of Armco. More lines.

It’s easy to imagine scenarios to which these lines could have led their owners: A family becomes strained by the proposition of a four, five, six-figure expense. Injury redirects a promising life. Simple fear extinguishes a spark.

Even if the Wall hasn’t taken anything of real significance today, the concepts of ownership, responsibility, and cost are inherent and very tangible in motorsports, and the time spent processing these relationships after hitting it for the first time may be as important as the moments before, those immediately after, or an impact itself.

Not many are lucky enough to be handed a light sentence for the same offense as has been committed here. Wherein the mistake made has a defined range of potential outcomes from minor damage to catastrophe, to see an outcome that is quite comfortably called minor damage is effectively to be forgiven.

A question this situation can raise is whether one is truly willing to face the Wall again. Once it’s known that there is ignorance where there was thought to be surety, and what was thought to be implicit cannot always be trusted, is there the clarity of focus and depth of commitment to go back to the same place, and find comfort near the limits again, this time with greater competence, without making the mistake? And if the mistake is made, are you prepared?

Perhaps that’s a personal question. After the metal is straightened, if the desire is still there, maybe the only way to find out if the right lessons have been learned is to stare it down once more.

13 Replies to “Guest Post: Finding The Wall”

  1. viper32cm

    I met the wall for this first time this year. I was driving at a new track, but one that I thought I had thoroughly studied. I guess I was wrong about that part. Thankfully, the damage was minor and I was unhurt. My first clear emotion after the impact was pure anger at myself. After I got back to the paddock area, that anger turned to doubt. I wasn’t sure that I deserved to be on the track or any track for that matter. What right did I have to be there? That sort of thing. I’m not sure how long I stared at my car but it felt like hours. Eventually, my garage neighbor came back in and helped me review the damage. It wasn’t that bad, and after a few good talks with him and few others I went back out for the afternoon sessions. It felt different. I’m used to the adrenaline shakes and still remember the initial fear and excitement I felt going out on a track for the first time. But going out again that time took a lot of will. I had to force myself to do it, which felt odd. In the end, though, I completed the rest of the event without missing any further sessions. I came in dead last but I trimmed perhaps as many as fifteen seconds from my lap times. By the time I left the track, I was feeling better than I had in a long time. Without getting into too many personal and professional details in an online setting, it was one of the few times I truly felt that how I responded to a mistake mattered more than the mistake itself.

    Reply
    • Reese B Post author

      Good point about how difficult the next time out can be. I missed an opportunity shortly afterwards to have what likely would have been a very fun run with a well-matched driver, because I was too frazzled to drive well.

      Reply
    • everybodyhatesscott

      I dont race but I’d guess the feeling is like dumping a bike. I still ride but my lean is especially afraid of gravel these days.

      Reply
  2. Robert

    I’ve got the wall on my mind this week; my home track is running clockwise for this weekend’s DE event. The wall is further from the racing line, but the speeds are *much* faster. I’m glad your encounter was more of a learning experience than a life changing one.

    Reply
  3. nici

    Ah yes, the Wall.. I flew headfirst into it and crippled myself for life. Half a lifetime later I’m still looking for a new wall to flirt with.

    Reply
    • Reese B Post author

      Yikes, man. That’s certainly the biggest fear. I’m sorry you had to see it realized, but I’m glad to see it doesn’t seem to have defeated you.

      Reply
  4. Eric H

    I’ve never personally met the wall, but I was nearly introduced to his cousin the cliff.
    The car ended up high-centered with the front wheels well over the edge. The track later installed a berm so it couldn’t happen again. Seattle International Raceway, equal parts scenic and hazardous.

    Reply
  5. Disinterested-Observer

    In a way, all of us has a Wall to face. For some, shyness might be their Wall. For others, a lack of education might be their Wall. For us, The Wall is a big, stationary object that wants to kill us. But as sure as my name is Disinterested-Observer, the people of Riverside Green can conquer their own personal Wall, which also happens to be *the actual* Wall!

    Reply
  6. ScottS

    Thanks for this Reese B. You may not have intended it, but Finding The Wall is a nearly perfect metaphor for life. The danger signs are everywhere. When we are young the chaotic black marks indeed seem like so much abstract art, hiding the peril in plain sight.

    Reply

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