Monday, November 3, 2014

An Account of Greg Moore's Enduring Racing Spirit 15 Years After His Death

Through the week leading up to the unpleasant anniversary, it has been my intention to create a tribute to Greg Moore. That lap 10 crash on October 31st of 1999 at the track now known as Auto Club Speedway remains as perhaps the most vicious accidents I have ever witnessed in motorsports. From what I saw to a racer I had so greatly admired, reacquainting me with the life of the Canadian presents a drastically greater feeling. I’ve retrieved my November 1st 1999 copies of the Toronto Sun, Toronto Star and the sports section of the Toronto Star newspapers I saved for 15 years to refresh myself to the great sense of loss no only to the motorsport community as well as to the nation of Canada. Crash images on the papers of those 15-year-old periodicals send me back. Reaction from teammate Patrick Carpentier, figures of the sport including CART president Andrew Craig and even insinuation whether he must have driven in the event following a Saturday scooter accident that injured his right hand was a sample of the content in text.

Following the time I spent reinforcing my memory, what I would write needed to relay a sense of sadness but also admiration. Too many of my recent articles have been a documentation of facts and the reference of statistics. Those who have followed Moore are quite famous with five great wins in the CART World Series and a domination of the 1995 Indy Lights series that built his legacy. In tribute to this great Canadian driver, I cannot liken Greg Moore to what could be found in a record book or on a digital webpage like Wikipedia.

For me, it is easier to identify with those more factual encounters than principles used in more emotional writing styles. I was born with Autism and though I can now operate at a fully functional level, it still hard for me to clearly and fully express my more emotionally guided words. That was one of many personality aspects I liked about Greg Moore. For a person who left the planet so prematurely, he conveyed happiness, humour and sometimes even displeasure so vividly to even distant observers. In his passing, his character in the paddock was well documented as a practical joker who was still an overall likeable competitor. Even 15 years later, many drivers who have raced against Moore remember him fondly.

To the best of my recollection, there was an interview with Greg Moore I watched on CBC during the 1995 Vancouver Indy where he was being questioned on assuming the Player's-sponsored ride with Forsythe Racing. Effectively taking over the spot left vacant by the Formula 1-bound Jacques Villeneuve, he was clearly thrilled but I also sense a slight bit of rookie discomfort. After-all, a Player's Racing race car found in victory lane in Indianapolis 500 and eventually running well enough to capture the 1995 CART championship would obviously felt like a one-ton weight for a 21-year-old Canadian expecting to face some of the world‘s best open wheel drivers. However, in the 1996 season, the steering wheel of the #99 car was handled by driver full of talent and near fearlessness. The opening lap multiple-car wreck at the 1996 U.S. 500 at Michigan International Speedway dodged by Moore demonstrated the reflexes of a winner. Through the infield grass, the #99 Reynard-Mercedes escaped a moving wall of open wheel race cars. Running on dirt and grass on slick tires and returning to the oval’s paved surface unscathed, that driver from Maple Ridge, British Columbia forged his place in open wheel racing.  

Winless in 1996 and falling short to locking-up rookie of the year honours in the series to a flamboyant Italian named Alex Zanardi, Moore pulled off two wins in 1997. The first coming at Milwaukee, I remembered the popular #6 machine piloted by Michael Andretti hounding the Canadian prepared to capitalize on even a minor slip. The veteran Newman/Haas Racing driver was never offered this window of opportunity. Becoming the youngest driver in CART series racing to win an event, Moore found victory lane again at Detroit. One of my two favourite Greg Moore wins, PacWest Racing team drivers Mark Blundell and Mauricio Gugelmin were gambling on fuel mileage in the closing laps of the race. Moore was positioned in third and immediately entered into full attack mode as the fuel cells of both PacWest drivers ran dry. The 1998 U.S. 500 final-lap battle between him and the Target Chip Ganassi Racing juggernaut where the Player's Racing #99 prevailed was a remarkable sight. Earlier that year, Moore stole victory away from Ganassi’s driver Alex Zanardi with five laps to go at the Rio 400 in Brazil.

The way he fought for each and every first-place trophy in CART has presented five memorable viewing experiences for which my eyes had the privilege to behold. Present at the Molson Indy Toronto event for 1998 and 1999, I was watched the #99 car in action on the long-running street course. Unfortunately, I never had the thrill to see him outside of a race car in person. Unlike the configuration used in the present Honda Indy events in Toronto where a stretch provides a reasonable chance for many spectators to see the major personalities of IndyCar racing, sight of drivers were more restricted in the late 1990s. Current IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe has had fond memories of Greg Moore and it has been an enjoyment hearing his interaction with the Maple Ridge native. He talked about Moore in an interview I conducted back in 2010 in cooperation with his Indy Lights ride of the time Team Moore Racing. Earlier that year, I did have an experience with one of his race cars at the Canadian International AutoShow as part of a special display. Present for media day, I observed the Player's #99 Reynard-Mercedes was among several vehicles that included a Wolf Racing Formula 1 car and a Paul Tracy driven Can-Am car displayed by the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame.

Greg Moore’s passing affected everyone who knew him. Family and personal friends have probably been the most hurt following the tragedy in California. To a lesser degree, his discontinued physical presence on this planet resulted in him being unable to join Team Penske in 2000. Thanks to a wonderfully compiled book titled “Greg Moore- A Legacy of Spirit“, there was a wonderful account alleviating some of the sadness for the unfulfilled opportunity. While he never drove a Team Penske vehicle in competition, Moore tested Al Unser Jr.’s ride in 1994 at Nazareth Speedway one-mile track. Driving the envied Mercedes-Benz powered PC-23 chassis, he was only the second person to drive Penske machine not under contract with the “Captain“; the other driver was Formula 1 great Ayrton Senna (an idolized athlete of Moore‘s). For any Canadian auto racing fan, I have to recommend Greg Moore- A Legacy of Spirit as a deserving read for a full understanding of a driver and human being.

The most fundamental fact one person could admire about Greg Moore was his pursue to live his dream. Between his two dreams, Greg chose auto racing over his other dream of hockey. Two vocations with a slight chance for ultimate success, Greg Moore, supported by his father Ric, pressed into motorsports. Despite reaching the glorious realm of professional auto racing and flourishing, the construction of something like his dreams was not without its adversity. In the case of Moore’s family, mortgages on property paid for the younger Greg’s first season competing in Indy Lights. Despite limited finances, determination, skill and perhaps a good deal of luck resulted in Moore’s blue and white #99 car being an icon to Canada’s auto racing heritage as much as the #99 worn by Wayne Gretzky (a hero of Greg Moore) was to hockey.

With 15 years passing since the loss, we are all left wanting more time for Greg Moore on this Earth to evolve greater as a driver and person. Understanding he cannot truly achieve this wish, the young Canadian must be racing somewhere whether in the afterlife or in the spirits of those among the living.

No comments:

Post a Comment