Thursday, September 22, 2016

Back at it

This weekend I'm in Lancaster, California to work the annual SKUSA Streets of Lancaster street race. This will be my first karting event since the race in New Castle, Indiana back in July when I had to jump as high as I could to avoid being hit by an errant kart. I injured my left leg (micro fractures of my femur and tibia) and with that said I do have a bit of timidness heading into this event. And to be honest who wouldn't? Any time an event of that magnitude happens its going to create so files in the brain that says, "do you really want to be doing this?" but the worst thing that I can do is allow that to influence my judgment and ability and, in a way, this is a lesson to be learned about overcoming challenges on the autism spectrum. 

This timidness I have now is akin to a span of time that happened when I was racing karts in the middle 90's. In my rookie season I was exceptional and had few incidents on track. I had a wheel bump here and a spin there but I never had solid contact with anyone or anything. Then, when our home track of the SLKA was flooded, we raced at the old Gateway road course. This track was nothing short of a speed ring with just one corner requiring a lift of the throttle. Even at the age of 13 I knew the draft was important and one unnecessary lift of the throttle and the pack would leave and there'd be no hope to be competitive. This was different from our bullring road course that we were accustomed to. 

It was the first heat and I drew a back of the field starting spot. I had great speed though so I wasn't concerned so long as I didn't lose the draft (for my non-racing readers, which is most of you, the draft is he term used to describe the hole punched through the air by a vehicle in front making the vehicle behind go faster because it isn't having to go through the same amount of air as the vehicles in front. The lead vehicle also gets a boost as a vehicle behind reduces drag) so the first lap was vital and a good start paramount. 

There it was! The green flag and through the two right hand corners that made turns one and the field was very much aligned as if the race hadn't started. It was shaping up to be a nip tuck race and we weren't even half a lap in on this 10 lap heat race. Understanding the air as I did I was able to pick off several spots on the back straight and as we entered the final corner a kart in the top three got out of shape. He sort of starting spinning to the left, then the right, then back to the left and while keeping my eye on this I didn't lift because losing the draft would be catastrophic. 

This final corner was somewhat off camber which means the track slopes away from the way the turn goes, and finally at the center point of the corner this kart that had been trying to spin for several seconds spun. It looked as if he'd slide out of the way but then it snapped back the other way. I was nearing but I stayed in the throttle and I was sure I'd have him cleared but I don't know if I slid into him or if he stayed in the throttle and crossed my path because I didn't see the contact but contact there was. 

It was brutal; violent as my kart was snapped around and I was almost ejected from the kart. The contact was made right at the center of the kart on the lefthand side and when I came to a stop I was partially in my seat. "That wasn't so bad" I thought aloud. That was truth until I tried to breathe and there was no breath. The wind had been knocked out and then I felt pain everywhere. The medics were conveniently parked in that corner and in the end I had a trip to the hospital to spend the rest of the day. 

After that crash I became timid behind the wheel. Where there was a gap for a pass I'd hesitate. When I came under attack from a kart behind I'd cede the position without any battle for the spot. I was afraid and when a racer is afraid they begin to get in more and more incidents because of the hesitation factor and the fact that drivers around the afraid driver aren't expecting such erratic hesitations. This hesitation would lead to a worse incident two years later. 

When I wasn't in a pack I still had great speed, but get other vehicles around me and I'd be overly conservative fearing another crash. I kept saying it was luck that I was crashing so often but it was because I was too passive in my driving. This passiveness would prove to be awful on a start when I was starting 6th. 

The green flag flew and the field stormed towards turn one. I had a run on the kart in fro t so I popped out of line to make a pass only to realize that this would put me in the position of being three wide entering a corner. I wanted no part of that so I lifted abruptly. The driver I tried to pass also feared three wide so he lifted and at the rate of speed we both lifted the row of karts behind us had nowhere to go except to try and make a pass so instead of a manageable Bree wide we were down in the awful predicament of being four wide! I was second from the right and the kart that was to my right made contact with me on entry and we locked wheels and came to a stop. This was a lot better than my crash at Gateway, or so I thought. 

There was a straggler on the start and he was probably five or seconds behind the entire field when the race started. This driver ignored the yellow flags that were flying and he center punched the rear of my kart. I was flung up and my body hyperextended and my head actually hit the rear bumper and I eventually came to rest partially in the kart. I had the wherewithal to reposition myself in the seat and I drove my kart off the track and all was well until I stated to breathe and again the familiar pains I had feared ever since my crash at Gateway two years prior were present. Another trip to the hospital ensued where I had multiple rib injuries and a cracked sternum. 

It was a long offseason but I finally understood my problem. If I continued to race scared this would keep happening. That's what I can't have happen this weekend. I can't allow fear to dominate my actions and this is where the tie in to living life with Asperger's, or at least the part of life in socializing comes in. 

It's been in my social mistakes that fear manifests itself. And rightfully so, right? If something goes amiss or awry you'll fear a repeat but by overly fearing something you can be just as liable to make a mistake as being completely fearless. There certainly should be a middle ground as it's that little bit of fear that is going to prevent a person, such as when I raced, from putting myself in a position that is a guaranteed crash. Yet, at the same time, one has to be able to move on from mistakes and not fear it. One must be able to heal up and try again. I'm talking about two different things here, of course, racing and socializing on the autism spectrum but the concept is the same. The physical pains of those crashes is minuscule compared to the internal pain I've had at some of my social miscues and those miscues dictated many future errors on my part. I don't know where the balance lies but this weekend I'm going to try and find it on the physical side and will try and enjoy every second of manning the flags at the finish line and will let the flags fly with the same gusto I have at every event I've ever worked. 

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