The Mint 400 race is going to start nine in the morning, but Raoul Duke and his attorney have been up all night. They wait for the race to begin in the Mint Hotel’s casino. A man in a Harley-Davidson t-shirt rambles to the crowd about being beaten by two men after they saw him slapping his own wife. He says that someone put him on a bus to Las Vegas after he mentioned wanting to attend the Mint 400 and he is delighted to be here. Duke and his attorney drink with a correspondent from Life magazine, who is drunkenly rebuffing a woman’s advances.
The race begins, and all the journalists all go outside to watch the first ten riders take off. They plan to return to the bar to wait for the next group, but they quickly realize that all of the riders are going to start within two minutes of each other. At first, watching the racers take off is exciting, but the dust from the motorcycles quickly obscures all visibility. Duke tries to keep track of what is going on, but he finally gives up on following the race, which is spread out over many miles.
Duke spots a group of patriotic military veterans in a dune buggy. Although he is put off by the flags and other military iconography on their vehicle, he chats with them and suggests they heckle another journalist, whom Duke claims wrote The Selling of the Pentagon. Lacerda stays outside to photograph the racers despite the difficult conditions, but Duke returns to the bar.
Duke parties wildly on Saturday night and blacks out. His only clues about what happened are a series of notes on cocktail napkins, which include a to-do list and fragmented meditations about how sex in Las Vegas is different from sex in Los Angeles. Duke recalls the story of a high-rolling friend in Big Sur who lost $30,000 after a casino comped him a trip to Reno. He then reflects on the stiff penalties for marijuana possession in Nevada and subsequently becomes nervous because his car is full of the drug.
Duke and his attorney debate about whether they should see Debbie Reynolds and Harry James perform at the Desert Inn or go to the Tropicana for Guy Lombardo's show. As they argue, Duke tries to park on the sidewalk and the men are surprised to find themselves at the Desert Inn. The parking attendants begin to yell at Duke for parking illegally, but Duke's attorney silences them with a five-dollar bribe. He then claims that they are friends with Debbie Reynolds. After a long argument, the men eventually convince the guard to let them into the show without tickets, but they are quickly removed after Duke's attorney complains loudly that the show is dated.
The men travel to the Circus-Circus, where they know they can take ether without being bothered by security. According to Duke, ether makes its users behave “like the village drunkard in some early Irish novel” (45). As they stagger through the casino, Duke is disturbed by the garish circus acts, which remind him of “what the whole hep world would be doing on Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war” (46).
Duke's attorney becomes agitated, a side effect of the mescaline they have consumed. Duke tries to comfort him, explaining that they have reached the vortex of the American Dream, which is the reason they have come to Las Vegas to begin with. However, Duke's attorney cannot be comforted, and soon, Duke becomes paranoid, as well. They leave Circus-Circus.
The men return to their room at the Mint Hotel, and their paranoia continues to consume them. They believe that they are about to be kicked out of their hotel and that Lacerda is avoiding them. Duke's attorney resents Lacerda because he believes that the photographer is having sex with a blonde woman that the attorney saw on an elevator the day before. Although Duke's attorney made a fool of himself by claiming he was racing in the Mint 400 on a Vincent Black Shadow when he obviously wasn’t, he believes that he and the blonde woman had a special connection.
Gonzo vows revenge on Lacerda, and Duke urges him to take a shower while he goes downstairs to park the car. As Duke passes through the casino, he meditates on the purpose of coming to Las Vegas and spots the Life reporter dictating his story to the telegraph operator.
Upon returning to their room, Duke notices that his attorney has eaten an entire blotter of acid and is now soaking in the bath. Duke's attorney is fixated on “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane and demands that Duke play the song on repeat and then throw the radio into the bathtub with him. Duke refuses to do so and eventually throws a grapefruit in the water instead. Duke's attorney comes at him with a blade, but Duke has a can of Mace, so his attorney eventually backs down. Duke finally manages to convince his attorney to get back into the tub and relax, and when he does, Duke uses a chair to blockade the bathroom door so that he can get some sleep.
Duke recalls the events leading up to his first LSD trip five or six years ago. He lived down the street from Dr. –––, a doctor famous for his experimentation with and advocacy for LSD. Duke visited the doctor in hopes of getting tips for his own experimentation. When he arrived, the doctor was humming and working in his garden, and Duke got the sense that he did not wish to be disturbed––especially by someone as violent as Duke, who owns a gun and hunts for his food. Six months later, Duke tried acid for the first time at a party at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco.
On another occasion, Duke accepted some free acid from a street person. When he went into the bathroom to eat it, he spilled some on his shirtsleeve. A stranger asked Duke what happened, and when Duke revealed that the powder on his sleeve was LSD, the stranger sucked it off his shirt.
Duke explains that the mid-sixties was a special time in American culture, characterized by a “sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail” (68). He ruminates on the fact that at the time, those who participated in the sixties counterculture thought they were invincible and that the world was changing rapidly and permanently. Looking back on it, he believes that everything that was meaningful about the sixties has now disintegrated.
As Raoul Duke and his attorney settle into Las Vegas’s strange and unique environment, Thompson uses their adventures as a lens to critique American society and culture. One dominant motif in this section is the military. Duke encounters several members of the military and law enforcement in these chapters, and each time, he reacts very negatively to these men and what they represent. Duke has his first run-in with the military in Chapter 5, when he talks to a group of veterans who have come to watch the Mint 400. Duke is deeply disturbed by the patriotic iconography on their dune-buggy, but he pretends to share their cultural conservatism in order to send them on a wild goose chase after the journalist Peter Davis.
Duke’s animosity and paranoia towards the military can best be understood as a reaction to the Vietnam War, which was in its final years when Fear and Loathing was published in 1971. By 1968, the majority of Americans were against the Vietnam War (Gallup and Newport, 315-318). Many people manifested their opposition to the war through general anti-military sentiment; Duke’s deep suspicion of the military and the legal establishment was by no means unusual. Although Thompson’s tone is light when he describes the incident with the veterans, Duke’s demeanor around the ‘pigs’ becomes more paranoid and serious as the novel continues. Throughout the novel, he is preoccupied with the danger of being sent to Carson City (i.e., arrested) for possession of drugs, and these fears often lead Duke and his attorney to experience ‘bad trips.’
Thompson’s portrayal of drug use is gritty and often contradictory. Raoul Duke embraces drugs, especially psychedelics, as a means of escaping the injustices of American society. He looks back fondly on the drug culture of the 1960s, and he spends most of the novel under the influence of one or more drugs. However, unlike his contemporaries Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey, and Timothy Leary, Thompson does not explicitly advocate the use of LSD in this text. Indeed, his portrayal of the psychedelic experience is often quite negative. Although Duke sees LSD as a means of escape, many of his trips quickly lead to violence and anxiety, which are exactly what Duke is trying to avoid in the first place.
Duke’s aversion to violence is another example of hypocrisy, a theme that Thompson introduces early in the novel and continues to explore throughout these chapters. Duke and his attorney are quick to reject people they believe to be violent, such as the veterans and the Mint 400 receptionist. However, they often behave more violently than those they criticize. In Chapter 7, Duke threatens to Mace his attorney after the attorney has come at Duke with a knife. The men are often cheekily aware of this irony in moments of relative sobriety. Although they do not demonstrate much self-awareness in the hotel-room scene, Duke does note in a flashback that he is too violent a person to interact with Dr. –––. These incidents suggest that even well-meaning people have moments of weakness (especially while under the influence), and that hypocrisy is an inevitable part of the human condition.
These chapters also include the first of Duke’s essayistic meditations about the 1960s, which will appear periodically throughout the text. Thompson views Las Vegas as a grotesque bacchanal that represents the worst of American capitalism. He uses it as a lens to dissect the ways that the ideals of the 1960s were corrupted and subsequently lost their hold on American society. At the end of Chapter 8, Duke reflects on the feeling of invincibility that dominated the ‘60s counterculture, and he suggests that the unwavering faith that “there was no point in fighting” is partially to blame for the end of the movement (68).