The Frontstretch: That's History! NASCAR's Checkered (Flag) Past, One Story at a Time: One Year Later by Amy Henderson -- Thursday October 20, 2005

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I admit, as NASCAR returns to Martinsville this weekend, I wasn’t thinking about the race. Instead, as I am sure is the case with much of the racing community, I found myself thinking of the ten people who lost their lives in the Hendrick Motorsports airplane crash on the day of last fall’s Nextel Cup race, a race which should have been a Hendrick celebration but instead will always be remembered as a footnote to the tragedy. So I was thinking about those ten people, and I was thinking about the people whose lives they touched and who will never be quite the same again.

There were people in the weeks following the crash, and there are people now who are callous enough and cold enough to say that we-the NASCAR community of teams, media, and fans-should “forget about it,” “get over it,” that we should “move on.” And on one level, they’re right-anyone, in any walk of life, needs, at some point, to live for the present and the future, no matter how difficult that may be. Four Hendrick Motorsports teams returned to Atlanta less than one week later, as determined and as focused as any team in the game. Seven days after being pulled out of his car on the way to victory lane, Jimmie Johnson got to have the celebration he missed, because the team was able to see the wisdom of pushing forward. But Johnson’s tears in victory lane are a reminder that pushing forward does not mean forgetting.

A year later now, the NASCAR community should remember fondly those that were lost and those that they left behind. The Hendrick family, who surely will never fill the hole left in their lives completely. The team members who finally got an afternoon off from their grueling schedules-to attend the funerals of their friends. Jimmie Johnson, who said later that he barely remembers what winning at Martinsville felt like because joy was so immediately replaced by overwhelming pain. Brian Vickers, who turned 21 that day and was looking forward to being taken out on the town by his friend Ricky Hendrick-and who will now never celebrate a birthday without being reminded of what he lost that day in the Virginia fog. The other friends and relatives whose grief was mercifully outside the spotlight.

History is not about “forgetting.” It is not about leaving the past behind at all costs, nor is it about “moving on” without learning from the words and actions of those who were here before. History is two things. It is the chronicle of years, of people and events that have shaped the lives of few or many. It is also the lessons that those people can teach us and what we use their memories to create. History is, for example, the all-to-short list of racing statistics that Adam Petty left behind and the black car his father drives in each race at New Hampshire in quiet tribute. But it is also the legacy that lives on at Victory Junction Gang Camp, the lesson that every moment is worth enjoying to its fullest. Forgetting is a cruel comfort in comparison-a life should never be forgotten. So remember the lives lost one year ago. Remember all of those, racers or not, who have been lost in time but not in mind. That is their legacy, and that is history.

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