Saturday, October 31, 2009

10 Years Later: The Memory of Greg Moore

A somber anniversary is marked today on October 31st of 2009 as 10 years ago a great Canadian auto racing talent was lost to a terrible crash.

At only 24 years old, Greg Moore's life came to an end at California Speedway during the Marlboro 500 mile race as his #99 Players Reynard/Mercedes-Benz slid sideways out of turn 2, shouting into the infield retaining wall at a speed as fast as 217 miles per hour. The impact was horrifically violent as the race car was shredded to in two between the cockpit and the engine compartment. As Moore's cockpit continued to be thrown through high-speeds, hope that the young driver would walk away dimmed. Suffering fatal head injuries Greg Moore, son of Ric and Donna, was mourned by family, competitors, as well as fans on that day of October 31th 1999 as well as for many days following (In the case of the other drivers competing in this final CART series race of the 1999 season, they were delivered with the news after the full race distance was completed). Heads dropped in a press conference as podium finishers Christian Fittipaldi, Max Papis, and Adrian Fernandez sat having just received the tragic news.

The final decade of the 20th century was a glorious era for Canadian open wheel racing and Greg Moore was a bright young star. Like many pure Canadian boys, the young Greg Moore had originally conceived notions of playing goalie in the NHL (National Hockey League). Romanced to auto racing, Greg's father Ric Moore provided his son with the first step to professional greatness. At 10 years old in 1985, Greg Moore's racing career began in competitive karting with #99 (a number which was actually not a direct salute to Wayne Gretzky but merely given to Greg since he was the 99th member of the karting club). After several years of on-track lessons, a confident Moore took North American Enduro Kart Racing Championships in 1989 and 1990. Migrating into Formula Ford 1600 for one season, Greg Moore stepped into USAC Formula 2000 in 1992 winning rookie of the year as well as the West series championship. Talented in his climb by the professional motorsport ladder, Greg's father put together a Firestone Indy Lights team placing him just one step into the CART Indy Car World Series. Learning in the first year, Greg Moore came to life on ovals in 1994 winning three races and becoming the youngest driver to win in the series at 18 years old. Falling short of the series championship in third place, this triumph got the attention of Jerry Forsythe and Players tobacco sponsorship. Signing with the Forsythe Racing Indy Lights team, Moore won the 1995 Firestone Indy Lights championship.

Taking over the Players-sponsored ride that was vacated by 1995 CART World Series champion Jacques Villeneuve, Moore stepped into the ride modest to his new surroundings of North America's leading open wheel auto racing tour. Coming off his dominant run winning performance amounting in 10 of 12 races of the 1995 Firestone Indy Lights series, the 20 year old was under Canadian media pressure to repeat this performance in Indy car racing. Known as a charismatic individual amongst the Indy Car paddock, Moore quickly earned respect of his fellow competitors once hitting auto racing's big time. In his first race at Homestead in 1996, as he drove in seventh place he skillfully outran the eventual race winner Jimmy Vasser. Deeper into the season, Greg Moore followed up his brilliant season-opening performance scoring three podium finishes including a 2nd place at the one-mile Nazareth oval. Moore driving became spotlighted during a first lap wreck at the Michigan Speedway's US 500 race when he made an evasive move through the damp infield grass. Moore held affirmative control of his #99 Players machine as up to nine cars got swept up in the crash.

Contending for CART Indy Car rookie of the year in 1996 season, Greg Moore was beaten at an emerging open wheel legend Alex Zanardi for the rookie honours driving for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Moore nonetheless gained not only experience but friendships. Through his time in the CART Indy Car World Series, two of his most valued friendships were with fellow series competitors Max Papis and Dario Franchitti. It was common to see the trio together away from the track including two most memorable occasions explained in the book Greg Moore: A Legacy of Spirit. In 1997 Greg Moore attended 90210 star Jason Priestley's wedding and brought Dario Franchitti to the party. That was the place where Dario met his now wife Ashley Judd. Another moment remembered by Max Papis is when Greg and Dario stayed with him at his family's home in Italy. Greg Moore became enamored by the Papis place as he laid eyes on a signed racing helmet of his racing hero Ayrton Senna. It turned out Max Papis knew the Brazilian F1 world championship because they shared a mechanic on the karting tour. When Papis explained the fact that Senna also slept over in the same twin-bed guest room he was staying, Moore insisted on sleeping in the bed Senna slept in years ago. Beyond the tight three-person clique, Tony Kannan also joined in the group creating the foursome known in the motorsport community as 'The Brat Pack'. Kannan describes the death of Moore “a hole in their hearts”.

Drivers and crew members enjoyed the fun-loving Greg Moore even as his exploits included practical jokes to respected competitors. Players teammate in 1998-1999 Patrick Carpentier could certainly provide a story or two about the cunning Maple Ridge driver. Moore made the most of his off-time from racing spending time amongst his long-time friends and family doing everythings from golfing to fishing. Greg Moore was also able to indulge on other forms of racing driving IROC (International Race of Champions) and in the FIA GT series through a brief visit to the United States. Racing Sebring and Laguna Seca, Moore got to drive the racing version of one of his dream cars, the Mercedes-Benz CLK-GTR.

In Moore's sophomore year on the Indy Car World Series tour, his off-track enjoyment would soon translate to some track side celebrations. Moore took the Players car to his first victory at the Milwaukee Mile in June 1997 holding off Michael Andretti. Greg Moore's luck repeated the next weekend as he was once again in position to win at the Detroit Grand Prix sitting third behind PacWest Racing cars Mark Bundell and Mauricio Gugelmin into the final laps. Aware that the PacWest pair only hope of winning relied on their marginal fuel capacity, Moore attacked each of them on a full rich fuel mixture. As both PacWest cars sputtered to under the pressure of Greg Moore, the Players car netted his second straight win. Gifted on oval tracks, the Detroit Grand Prix would be Moore's only victory on a road course on the series.

Moore's wins on the Indy Car World Series were never earned easily proven in depth the last year in 1998. Winning the Grand Prix of Brazil, Moore made a daring pass on rival Alex Zanardi. Though Zanardi often prevailed in their match up, Moore claimed one more victory against Zanardi and the Target Chip Ganassi Racing team as a whole. At the 1998 US 500 on Michigan Speedway, Moore rode behind the red car duo before using a drift to snake around for the checkered flag. In his final CART victory, Moore again held off Michael Andretti in the 1999 season opening race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. As the season progressed, Greg Moore was preparing to leave the Players Forsthye Racing effort for the juggernaut Penske Racing for 2000. With the accident at California, the possibilities for Moore's future victories were never revealed.

In the aftermath of California crash on October 31, 1999, Greg Moore's voice became a verse to a very sad song urging the best interests of race car drivers safety needed to be taken more seriously. Earlier that season in CART, a Penske driver Gonzalo Rodriguez had died in a horrific flip at the Luguna Seca road course the just races prior to the Moore crash. Safety equipment on the cars and tracks have been extensively reviewed. In reaction to Greg Moore's death, the HANS (Head and Neck Support) device was mandated in 2001 in order to increase survivability of impacts endangering the skull in a crash. As time went on, oval tracks too saw the need to advance in the name of safety. SAFER barriers are found on all major oval tracks in the United States (California/Auto Club Speedway installed the SAFER walls in 2004) Finally, As a Moore's Campaigning the #99 throughout his racing career, the number was retired from CART.

Statistically, Greg Moore was notedly the two-time Enduro kart season crown holder, the 1995 Firestone Indy Lights champion and a five-time winner in the CART Indy car racing series. However, the true measure of this extraordinary Canadian driver is can not be conveyed in such voiceless numbers. The Maple Ridge, British Columbia native's life fulfilled others inside and out of the motorsport world.

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