Last month, I penned a column about Barry Meguiar and his passion for the automotive industry. During his presentation, he mentioned several times that automotive enthusiasts belong to a unique fraternity that has cars and trucks as the ties that bind. He also mentioned that friendships and relationships between other enthusiasts that are formed over the years are often as close as that of family members. So it's not uncommon for those of us in the business to consider our friends and acquaintances as extended family. It is none the more evident than at SEMA, when you see folks you haven't seen all year and take the time to catch up both on a personal and professional level.

As a magazine, our readers could also be considered part of that extended family. I just came back from the Truckin' & Sport Truck Vegas Nationals in Las Vegas, where a large contingency of our extended family gathered for a wild weekend on Fremont Street. The event was a huge success, and for me, it was a chance to not only touch base with several of our vendors I've know for a long time, but to also meet and greet the folks who are the heart and soul of our magazine - the readers. And judging from the people I met that weekend, I have to add that we have a pretty eclectic mix of folks as loyal readers. But they all have at least two things in common: having a good time and the passion they share for their trucks.

There was another segment of our extended family that was notably absent from our Fremont Street Experience: readers who are serving their country in the armed forces. Since the beginning of the war in Iraq, our circulation department has told us magazine newsstand sales in general have softened. This is partly because of the economy, but also because a large segment of our readers are sitting in the sand in both Iraq and Afghanistan worrying more about keeping out of harm's way than what their truck is doing back home.

If you look at the statistics, it backs up my theory as to why the newsstand is soft these days. There are at least 200,000 American troops committed to both Afghanistan and Iraq, with the vast majority of them being young American males, the heart and soul of our readership. We've had a handful of soldiers send us letters and photos from overseas, talking about their experiences, anxious to get home to their families and continue working on their trucks.

Having survived the Vietnam experience, recent reports of Americans killed in the latest wave of fighting in Iraq opens some old wounds. For me, it has become an emotional experience to see the faces of the 19- and 20-year-olds who have been killed in action, with their photos plastered in the daily papers. These are not only the faces of our sons and daughters, friends, and relatives; they belong to individuals who will never see their loved ones again, or get a chance to live to a ripe old age and tell their kids how they survived the war. They are heroes who laid it all on the line for their country when asked to do so, and unfortunately paid the ultimate price for the freedom we enjoy every day. And they are also part of our extended family.

Throughout the 2004 show season, I urge you to set aside a moment of solitude at each event you go to in remembrance of the members of our extended family who would much rather be there with you but are away fighting for freedom, and especially for those who made the ultimate sacrifice for all of us. They will be missed.