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“Ray is in the lead with only four laps to go. He is well ahead of the other competitors driving at a rapid speed of 180 miles per hour. Ray’s got this All-Star-Race in the bag! Oh no! Oh no! Ray looks like he has lost control!!!”...
I stepped off the jet, taking in the blistering Texas sun, breathing in the fresh air, visioning that trophy in my hands next time I got onto my plane. My family and crew followed me off the plane, lugging all of my heavy, lumpy, suitcases, primarily stuffed with my #52 merchandise. Standing there waiting for me was my agent Rob Staring. “Ryaaan Ray… you ready?”
“Robby, of course I’m ready. I’ve got no doubt that Imma will become NASCAR’s next All-Star.”
“Let me escort you to your penthouse suite at the hotel. Jen, boys, follow me.”
Rob got us a limo to drive my family and I to the hotel. Rob got us a pretty sick room, but I wouldn’t expect anything else, I mean, I am Ryan Ray. The Limo pulled up into the driveway of the Four Seasons and, like I expected, the paparazzi was already stationed at the entrance. I straightened by #52, royal blue baseball cap as the doorman opened up the car door for me. I stepped out of the car, making sure to strike a pose for each and every cameraman. They all wanted a piece of me, camera flashes blazing into my eyes along with several trying to shove pens and paper into my hand to sign an autograph. I already could anticipate the TMZ articles that would be titled something like, “Ryan Ray ready to race,” explaining how I arrived at the Four Seasons hotel just two nights before the NASCAR All-Star-Race at the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. I was ready to race and for the most epic weekend of my life.
After the sponsors took Jen, the kids and I to a Michelin star steak house, Rob had the most insane night planned for us. First, we were going to pregame at the bar at the hotel, then we were heading straight to some “extremely exclusive club” to have some fun the night before a full day of practice at the stadium. Robby told me that this night was going to be full of booze, drugs, and plenty of women and I could not be more excited.
I am an extreme party animal and I truly know how to have fun. Back at home in Chicago I spend most of my weekends with my buddies and I leave Jen home with the kids. Don’t get me wrong, I love Jen, but she’s never down to stay out clubbing with me till five in the morning. My life is all about those adrenaline rushes, which I primarily get from that rush of race car driving, but on the rare occasion it will be from some “party favors'' at the clubs. My friends and I are extremely crazy, I mean, I am a race car driver for god's sake.
“Alright Ray, I got us a car waiting outside to take us down to the club”
“Robby, one more round of shots before we leave.”
“Okay man. Just remember you gotta be down to the tracks at 8 a.m sharp to practice before the race.”
“I got it. I got it.”
About twenty minutes later we made it and this club was nothing like I’d ever seen before. We met up with some of the other competitors and some of my old friends from the area. We all knew that we were gonna have a fun night ahead of us…
The next morning I woke up, extremely hung over. I took some advils and scrambled to get ready in time for practice. I truthly don’t remember much of what I did last night, but I know I definitely had a good night. It was already 7:45 and the track was thirty minutes from my location. I looked over on my phone and saw I had a million missed calls and text messages from Rob, “CALL ME NOW! CHECK TMZ! YOU ARE GOING TO BE LATE! JEN IS GOING TO HATE YOU…” After skimming that last text, I bolted over to TMZ and found leaked pictures of me taking shots, acting inappropriate, and making out with a woman who was definitely not my wife. I knew after practice today, I was going to have to face Jen, and it was not going to be a pretty situation.
The car rolled up the Texas Motor SpeedWay and I was in heaven. The track was larger than life, perfectly paved, glowing with all of the advertisements from each driver’s sponsor. Ranging from McDonalds, to Skittles, to Lowes, each and every driver had an entirely different major sponsor. I was the rookie of the season, my first ever appearance at an All-Star event. My sponsor was the one and only VISA, supporting me in hopes of winning my first championship. After winning four other huge NASCAR races this year, the bets were pretty high that I was going to be declared the winner tomorrow. I approached my baby: my royal blue and white, sheak, glowing car with a huge silver 52 on the side. I put my helmet on and was ready to take her for a spin around the tracks. Perfecting my turns, my speed, for hours, I went round and round and round the Texas Motor SpeedWay. I was making sure that nothing was going to stop me from winning the All-Star-Race.
After a long day of practice, it was finally time for me to go back to the hotel. I took out my hotel key and went to unlock the door, but the light was red. I kept trying and trying, but somehow Jen must have locked me out. I took my fists and slammed at the door, demanding to be let in. One of my twin boys, Rider, let me in.
Rider whimpered, “Daddy. She doesn’t want to talk to you.” and he walked away. I could see the disappointment in his big blue eyes, staring at me as if I had just convicted a felony. I could not even believe that Jen had the audacity to lock me out of the hotel room. I mean, does she want me to lose my race because I don’t get enough sleep and relaxation. I entered our bedroom and she had her back facing the door, but I could see the blue light from her cell phone glowing on her face. She was awake, but definitely not planning to talk to me.
“Hey Jen!” I said in a calming voice.
“Leave me alone!” She hollered back at me.
“Jen, baby, we should talk about those pictures that you saw. It isn’t what it looks like…”
She cut me off mid sentence and went on and on about how it was exactly what it looked like. She kept reminding me of all the nights that I never came home, how she’s sure that I have probably cheated on her before and how I have been a horrible husband. She told me that she was extremely disappointed in me as not only a husband, but as a dad. I was supposed to be a role model for my kids and instead I was the opposite of she hoped they would turn out nothing like me. She reminded me how absent I have been in their lives and how she is sick of it.
My relationship with Jen used to be perfect when we were dating and first got married. A mutual friend introduced me to her right when I was just doing go kart racing. (Most pro-race car drivers start off mastering go-kart racing). Ever since we had met, we really hit it off and were able to talk for hours on end. I will always remember one of our first dates at the local Chigaco go-kart raceway, and this is when I realized she was the one. Jen was extremely passionate about go-kart racing and always loved to go with me. Whether we were racing each other on a date, or she was watching me in a race, we always had the best time. Once I began racing actual race cars, she was extremely supportive of my career and was always there rooting for me. She loved the sport almost as much as I did and that’s what made her so special. After winning my first official, semi-pro racing competition, I proposed to Jen. I promised myself that I would win this race so I could propose on national television to announce to everyone that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Jen. She of course said yes and it was an incredibly monumental day both my racing career and my life.
Four years later, I began racing for NASCAR, and truthfully, the fame had really gotten to my head. I loved the lifestyle that came paired with racing: money, night clubs, fans. Over the years, I became extremely close with my agent, Rob, and other racers. The racers all knew how to party hard and all of our agents had connections to get us into the elite clubs in every city around the world.
Anyways, our conversation temporarily ended. We basically stopped talking for the night and she had gone to bed. I watched some of my racing highlights on youtube until I finally fell asleep myself. I was thinking about our talk, but nothing she said was a surprise to me. I’ve gotten the “horrible husband” talk before from her, so I wasn’t really phased. After a million fights, she still stuck around and always managed to put on a face in front of the cameras.
(8 A.M. the next morning)
My alarm went off at 8 a.m. sharp and it was officially race day. I already heard the sound of the hair dryer blowing from the bathroom and I knew Jen was getting ready. I wanted to shower so I walked into the bathroom. Jen stared at me and didn’t say a word. As soon as I got out of the shower, without looking me in the eye, she said “I want a devorce.”
“Jen, sweetheart, I know you don’t mean that.”
“Yes Ryan, I do. You are not the same person I loved and married 7 years ago.”
That comment hit me like a truck. The night before, I was reminiscing about our old memories and how we used to be so happy together. No matter how intense our fight has been, she never once pulled the “I want a divorce” card. Truthfully, I never thought those words would come out of her mouth.
“Ryan, the boys will meet you at the race later. I’m going to take them to get some breakfast before they come.”
I was extremely confused, “So… you’re not coming!?” I exclaimed. After 9 years of us being together, she has never missed one of my races. Even when my races were in the Chicago go kart speedway, and when she had bronchitis, Jen was always there ruiting me.
“Jen, you have to come! You know how big of a deal this race is.” After twenty minutes of going back and forth, I convinced her to come. I told her that the kids would want her there and that changed her mind. She loved our sons more than anything and she bent over backwards for them. She reassured me several times that she was only coming to the race to keep the boys company and so they wouldn’t have to stand on the sidelines without adult supervision. Jen has never trusted Rob, and now after last night she trusts him less than ever. She would never put our childrens’ lives in Rob’s hands.
The limo came at 10 to the hotel to pick up the entire family and Rob. Jen sat in the car silent, just staring out the window. After thirty minutes of awkwardness, we finally arrived at the Texas Motor Speedway. Jen’s comment kept replaying in my head like a broken record: I want a divorce. I want a divorce. I want a divorce. It consumed my thoughts and controlled my brain. The race started at twelve and I could only think of the fact that Jen was actually going to leave me. Selfishly, not only was I going to be upset, it would also ruin my career. My fans LOVED the fact that I had the “perfect” family, a happy marriage, and two little twin boys. My family helped me gain publicity and my reputation would be ruined without my wife.
It was my job to do the final inspection of everything for my racecar. The paint had no chips, the gas tank was filled, I assumed the engine was fine because my crew members were supposed to evaluate the technical stuff. As the driver, I’m supposed to check the engine, but honestly I was too preoccupied with Jen to do a whole inspection. I quickly lifted the roof of the car, glanced at the engine, slammed it shut and went to go try to talk to Jen before the race started.
“Jen. Can we go to dinner tonight? Talk everything out?”
“I don’t think so, Ryan. I think when we get back home I’m going to move away for a while. Maybe stay with my parents in Malibu for a little bit.
“But Jen…” and she walked away to go sit with the boys.
I was so devastated, yet extremely aggravated at the same time. How dare she leave me after one kiss!?
“5 minute racers! 5 minutes! I grabbed my helmet and the crew helped me get situated in my car. I buckled up, securing myself in the race car, then drove into my starting spot. All the other racers followed suit and we were ready. It was a good time. “On your mark! Get set! Go,” the checkered flag was whooshed in a downward motion. We all pressed on our pedals and zoomed away. The All-Star-Race was a total of 140 labs around the Texas Motor Speedway Race track. My racing technique is to start off in the back for the first 50-60 laps, then one by one I start to pass the other racers. Once I got to the front of the other racers, I tried so hard to remain focused on the race. “I want a divorce. You are not the same person I married 7 years ago.” These words controlled my entire brain. I tried to just keep my eyes on the track and my foot pressing hard on the peddle.
“5 laps left, racers! “Ryan Ray is far in the lead!”
I was well ahead of all of the other competitors. I kept my eye on the prize and tried to focus on winning the race because it was one thing that could definitely bring me some happiness. “3 laps left! Ray looks like he is going to be declared NASCAR’s next All-Star!” All of a sudden, smoke began to fly up from the roof of the car. The wheel became stiff and I completely lost control of my car. Next thing I knew I slammed into the sidewall of the race track while going over 100 miles per hour.
Five hours later I woke up to the sounds of Jen weeping“RYAN! RYAN! Wake up! Ryan, please please please be okay,” while sitting at the side of my hospital bed squeezing my hand so tight. Her palms were sweaty and tears slowly dripped from down her cheeks.
I don’t remember anything after a split second before crashing into the wall. Apparently, a part of the engine had broken, causing it to overheat and malfunction. Shortly after, my precious car had somehow blown up into flames. Paramedics had to rush and instantaneously remove me from the vehicle before the fire truly broke out. I was found unconscious and everyone keeps reminding me that it was a miracle that I survived. There was a 1 in 10 chance of me waking up from this accident and not being left in a coma. The doctors in the Texas ER were all astonished that I was conscious only several hours after the crash. I feel like it was almost as if my body knew that I couldn’t end my life on such a horrible note with my family.
As I opened my eyes, I muttered, “Jen…”
She jumped up and screamed for the doctors, “He’s awake! He’s up! Come quick!!!!”
I smiled as much as could despite the bruises all over my face and body. Surprisingly, she gave me a huge smile back and gave my hand an extremely hard squeeze. I don’t know if it was because she felt so bad for me after what had just happened, but it felt as if she looked at me the same way she did 7 years ago. She seemed to still adore me and this very moment I had hope that I could win her back.
A group of doctors rushed into my hospital room to question and examine me. They ran a million tests, and unfortunately I was failing a lot of them. They tested my sensations in my legs and my control. I couldn’t feel anything, I couldn’t feel when any doctor tried to tap or move my leg, and I couldn’t lift either leg in the slightest. All feelings below my waist were gone. After running several tests, the doctors concluded that I had suffered major spinal cord damage from the accident and this resulted in lower body paralysis. When the doctor told me this news, my heart sank to the bottom of my body. It felt like I was crashing into that wall all over again. Although I was constantly reassured that I was, I was extremely lucky to have survived although my racing career would be over and I would be reliant on a wheelchair.
I could not wrap my head around the fact that I could no longer race. I have dedicated the last fifteen years of my life to the sport. From go-kart races, to semi-pro races, to my dream of NASCAR racing, I put my heart and soul into race car driving. My dreams were crushed that there was unfortunately a zero percent chance I could ever drive again, let alone walk. I immediately felt depressed and could not believe that the rest of my life would be spent in a wheelchair.
Surprisingly, Jen and my kids stood by my side through it all. While in the hospital, they would sit in my room with me for hours on end. Jen coordinated with the boys’ school that they would be out for two weeks and she explained the entire situation.. Jen was present at each and every meeting with a doctor, each and every time they checked my vitals, and she was always there when I went to bed and was back before I woke up. This all showed me that despite our fight, she really did still care about me.
After several days in the hospital I was able to return home to Chicago. For the first few weeks, my family watched movies with me and ate their meals with me in bed until I was finally able to migrate to the couch. The boys would make me pancakes, spacing out chocolate chips and whipped cream to form a smiley face and Jen would cook me my favorite dinners of hers like her homemade fresh meatballs, mac and cheese with the perfect crispy cheesy top, and crunchy, cheesy chicken parm with her delicious tomato sauce recipe that was apparently her grandmother’s secret recipe. Never in my life had I felt more loved by my family and I could not be more thankful. I had a realization that all these years I focused my energy on the wrong things (partying, alcohol, etc.) instead of the people I loved.
Each and every day I reminded all three of them how sorry I was for the way I treated them. Over the next several months, we all grew closer than they have ever been and I learned to never mistreat them again. I couldn’t believe that I cheated on my wife and was so absent in my childrens’ lives. I was now a changed person both physically and mentally and I focused all of my energy on bettering the lives of my family, not myself. The accident made me realize that these were the people who would be with me through it all. Rob had come to visit in the beginning at max three times, while my family never left my side. The longest I was ever alone was when Jen would leave to go to the grocery store or run another small erend. I felt so incredibly loved and I was honestly in disbelief that my family was by my side through the entire process. They reminded me that those mistakes were all in the past and they always would be my family. My sons would always have me as their father, and Jen had told me repeatedly that I became the person I used to be. Physically, I was in a different place, but mentally, I was happier than ever because my relationship with the people I loved most had been repaired.