Amid the racing on Memorial Day weekend, you probably took time to recognize war veterans.
The rapidity with which we're losing the surviving vets of World War II is frequently remarked upon of late.
Less noticed is that many of that generation were also leading achievers during the postwar booms of the auto industry and racing, and we're also losing them at an alarming rate.
This hit home as we prepared a recent spread building up to the 50th anniversary in July of AutoWeek, a sister publication of Tire Business. Year by chronicled year, the list of the deceased whose passing merited mention in our retrospectives grew. For the spreads covering the 1950s and '60s, we could mark the major deaths in a sentence or two; a bad year warranted a short paragraph.
By the end of the 1990s, the lists could have consumed half of the available space, and long lifetimes of major achievement were shortened into memory nudges such as ``Indy 500 winner'' or ``founder of the marque.''
Racing was more dangerous in the early years, but many of those who died hadn't lived long enough to accomplish much. Recently, though, in addition to racing tragedies and off-track accidents (the number who died in private aviation incidents alone is astounding) came the deaths of major figures who'd simply run their course. Enzo Ferrari, Ferry Porsche, Juan Manuel Fangio, Henry Ford II, Steve McQueen, Gianni Agnelli, Soichiro Honda....
Enthusiasts often focus on hardware, but hardware only matters because of people. To choose only from the realm of my personal experience, it's one thing to say you've seen his Mercedes-Benz W196, another to have met Mr. Fangio, even briefly.
It's one thing to say you saw a race on TV, another to have been trackside watching Ayrton Senna, Dale Earnhardt or Denny Hulme.
You can visit the Corvette Museum, but it's a richer experience if you'd met Zora Arkus-Duntov or seen Bill Mitchell showing friends his Ferrari in the parking lot at Meadow Brook Hall Concours d'Elegance in Rochester Hills, Mich.
Fortunately, many of the greats are still among us, accessible at races, concours or other events. If the opportunity presents itself, seize it. And bring a youngster along, too.
The cars will be in museums forever-the real treasures are with us only for a short while.
Kevin A. Wilson is senior editor (special projects) for AutoWeek, where this column originally ran.