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An epistle from the "lost generation"

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I'm going to tell you a quick story from many years ago. Back in college, I dated a girl who was, for lack of a better word, exhausting. I'm sure most of you know what I mean when I say that. She was pretty, she was pleasant, she could be very funny at times. But she was exhausting.

So one day I packed a few clothes in a suitcase, stopped my paper, unplugged my toaster and other electronics, got in my car, and drove to Great Falls, Montana.

It was the first - and, to date, last - real road trip I ever treated myself to, and to be sure it was one of the most exhilarating of my life. Just me and my car, cruising at high speed through the long stretches of flat roads, then winding my way through the mountains amidst some of the lushest greenery and most beautiful roadside streams I've ever seen. (We won't mention Butte.)

I didn't just go for a lark, though. My pretext was to visit an old friend on his ranch, but the real reason I went was to see whether I'd miss my girlfriend or not. If, at the end of my sojourn, I wasn't pining for her, I would treat it as a sign.

I spent a week in Great Falls. I looked into Canada from my friend's field. I went to see a movie at the downtown theater which played on a screen that seemed smaller than my current HDTV. I ate at a drive-in dive straight out of Napoleon Dynamite. I shoveled manure on a neighboring farm.

I had the time of my life. And at the end of it, I dreaded going back.

To my dismay, I had not missed my girlfriend at all. The prospect of going back actually terrified me. I had my sign, and it could not have been clearer.

Long story short, within a week of my return to school we had broken up. A week later, she got engaged to another guy. They're still married today, so I like to think that we both made the right choice.

What does this have to do with racing? Well, I'm sure the readers we have left have noticed my extended absence from writing and, having read the anecdote above, suspect that they know where I'm going with this.

Before I go on, though, I want to provide some context.

I am a member of what I consider to be a "lost generation" of IndyCar fans. I have lived through five different incarnations of Indy car racing: the USAC years, the formation of CART, the IRL and Champ Car, and now the IZOD IndyCar Series. In contrast, over my lifetime NASCAR has gone through four real landmark paradigm shifts - to wit, the transition to smaller sedans in the late 80s, the departure from stock bodies in the mid 90s, Dale Earnhardt's death in 2001, and Brian France taking over.

For me, the difference between two is that in NASCAR's case the changes were largely philosophical within the broader context of the sport, whereas Indy car racing practically reinvented itself from scratch at every one of the five junctures. And at no point in any of those five pseudo-eras was there any sort of stability - even during the fabled "salad days" between 1989 and 1994, there was so much infighting and political strife that the self-immolation that followed was largely inevitable.

Over the years, my Indy car fandom has struggled for life as it has been repeatedly crushed by the giant machine press that is life in the sport. In other words, being an Indy car fan during this time period has been exhausting.

I say I'm part of a "lost generation" because unlike the fans who came before me and those who have risen since the Split, my allegiances are shattered into as many pieces as there have been Indy car epochs. The former group has a very clear idea of what Indy car racing was at its heyday, and they live secure in those memories, feeling like they lived through days of glory. The latter have been forged in the crucible of rebuilding a series that was decimated down to next to nothing - and while they are a much smaller group, they seem to me to be much more hardy and passionate thanks to their backs being against the wall.

For me and my ilk, though, we are caught straddled across several great divides of history. We are expected to be passionate about both the past and the present. It's almost as if we need to have separate personalities - part Indy car fan of yesteryear, part IndyCar fan/advocate of today, and part missionary for the future.

I'm also at the point where I'm not old enough to retire into my hazy, sentimental remembrances of the good old days, but I'm too old to maintain the fiery passion that is required of younger fans to help the sport survive as it struggles for life. Twenty years ago, maybe, it might have been a different story... but, of course, twenty years ago it was a different story in so many ways.

Because of that, I'm caught in a purgatory of fandom - I can be neither as dismissively cynical about modern IndyCar nor relentlessly positive about it, and for that I've caught flak from both sides. It's a constant balancing act and, as anyone who has ever been on a high wire before knows, the longer you do it the more the intense focus and control it requires ravages your mind and body.

So for the past few weeks I have been on a self-imposed hiatus. I was exhausted. And I think that if it hadn't been for Twitter, I might not have come back.

That's a strange thing to say given Twitter's nature, but in all honesty my allegiance to IndyCar at this point is most strongly linked to the wonderful people within the sport with whom I have established and re-established friendly bonds. After all the water under the bridge, I've discovered that while I could very easily let my IndyCar fandom wither to nothing - hastened along, to be sure, by the sport's own bewildering nature of taking two steps back for every step forward - I am far less sanguine about letting my personal relationships with people in IndyCar go.

I don't know what my future in IndyCar is. I still remain "lost," in a way. And because of the nature of today's sports in the Age of the Internet, if I cannot muster the requisite levels of passion, my voice will sooner than later be replaced by someone who can.

But I'm not quite ready to break it off just yet.