Time is a crazy thing.
The recent announcement that the IZOD IndyCar Series will be returning to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., after an absence of seven years - coming as it did just prior to this weekend's race in Toronto, Ont. - naturally had many of us thinking of Greg Moore and his devastating fatal accident there.
All the old emotions swelled up; we got teary just thinking about it. Moore's death still weighs heavily on our minds, after all.
It makes it all the harder to believe that Greg Moore died twelve years ago. The lingering pain and grief from his passing, therefore, proves two things: first, that Greg had a significant impact on those who knew him, and second, that racing fans have a predilection for remaining rooted in the past.
The brutal calculus of time's passage means that the world moves on from tragedies like Greg's death inexorably. That we do not is a function of our humanity, but the more distance that grows between a tragic event and the present, the less honest that aura of grief becomes.
I read on Twitter today a well-meaning post from an IndyCar fan that reminded us all to remember Jeff Krosnoff, the promising young racer who was killed along with a corner worker in Toronto. Those of us who watched it live will never forget it, but it struck me that Krosnoff died fifteen years ago - long enough ago that the youngest of the coveted 18-34 demographic that IndyCar wants so badly to court was still in diapers.
The sadness that these younger fans might feel about Greg Moore or Jeff Krosnoff is something of a false construct. It is created from the professed real anguish from older fans and mixed with a combination of myth and imagination to create a superficial, impersonal honorific. "Remember Greg Moore," a young fan might say... without knowing why.
I am as guilty of this as anyone. I have on more than one occasion mentioned what a shame it was that the great Mark Donohue was killed so young - younger than I am now - and I have spoken and written about his greatness as a racer. But if I'm being honest with myself, there is no real emotion behind it other than a generalized admiration of someone I never knew who was before my time. Mark Donohue died when I was four years old. There is no way I would ever have felt the sadness that may linger in, say, Roger Penske's mind about the event. My own sentiments are largely forensic, and consequently hold little real meaning.
The implication here is unavoidably harsh, but it is also inescapable. The passage of time will inevitably render both the great and horrible events of our lives more and more forgettable with each passing moment. We console ourselves with the idea of history books and passing along traditions and legends, but even those are false witnesses colored by subjectivity and the natural erosion of immediacy. You might think in the Information Era that our appreciation and chronicling of history would be greater than in any previous age; you would be wrong, however, because the overwhelming emphasis in our present day is on what's happening now and what will happen.
I think, then, that we may do a disservice to our sport by expecting others to dwell on our sadness in the same way or with the same gravitas that we do. It is a worthy impulse, to be sure, the wish to honor the memory of people we hold dear, but a side effect of that impulse is an unconscious attempt to arrest the process of change that racing series need to survive. We all desperately want our favorite racing series to stay the same as it was when we learned to love it ourselves - but it can never happen, nor should it.
Nostalgia and sentimentality are warm comforters in a world that can be bleak and cold. But they should not be engines of policy or directors of progression. There is real value in being able to move on, to embrace change and new possibilities. Time gives us that opportunity by its very nature; it is an opportunity that we should not pass up.