Greg Moore: What Might Have Been

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While today (Friday Oct 30) marks the fifty-fifth anniversary of the death of three-time Indy 500 winner Wilbur Shaw; most present-day race fans are justifiably focused on tomorrow’s ten-year anniversary of the death of one of Indy car’s brightest stars – Greg Moore.

Although he competed in only four seasons in CART from 1996 to 1999, Moore demonstrated enough talent to show that he would one day be considered one of the greats of our sport.

Greg Moore hailed from Maple Ridge, B.C. just outside of Vancouver. He began running Indy Lights in 1993 with his family’s underfunded team at the age of seventeen. In 1994, he won three races and finished third in the Indy Lights championship. For 1995, he joined Gerry Forsythe’s Player’s racing team and absolutely dominated the Indy Lights series; winning an astonishing ten of twelve races on his way to winning the Indy Lights championship.

The following year, Forsythe elevated the twenty year-old Moore to his CART team. Although Moore went winless in his 1996 rookie campaign, he immediately impressed his competitors with a spirited drive at Homestead where he finished seventh in his very first race. Although Moore had his share of DNF’s that season, he also had a third place finish at Cleveland and Surfer’s Paradise along with a second place finish at Nazareth. Sprinkled throughout his rookie season was a fourth at Toronto, a fifth at Milwaukee and a sixth at Laguna Seca. In his first year, Moore showed consistency and success at just about every type of track that CART ran. He finished second to Alex Zanardi in the 1996 Rookie of the year totals.

Moore’s sophomore season in 1997 saw no signs of a letdown as he started the season with a fourth place at Homestead, followed by a second place finish at Surfer’s Paradise. Two races later, he had another second at the “roval” at Rio. That set the stage for June, when Moore became the youngest winner in Indy cars (twenty-two years, one month and ten days) at that time by winning at Milwaukee. He followed that win with another victory in his very next race at Belle Isle. The second half of 2007 was a disaster for Moore, however. He suffered seven DNF’s in his final eight starts, the only finish being a second at Mid-Ohio. He had proven that he could win so long as the car would finish. After such a spectacular start, the second half of the 1997 season dropped Moore to a disappointing seventh place in the standings.

The following year saw Moore return with a new resolve as well as a new teammate. For the first time, Player’s Forsythe Racing expanded to a two-car team when Patrick Carpentier joined the Canadian sponsored team. Again, the season started strong for Moore, as he piled up one strong finish after another. In the first six races of the 1998 season, Greg Moore finished no worse than sixth as he had a win, a second place finish, two third place finishes, a fourth and a sixth. His win at Rio included one of the more phenomenal passes I’ve seen as he deftly sliced through traffic, sandwiched his car between Arnd Meier and Alex Zanardi, then cut across Zanardi’s nose on the outside just before entering turn one to take the lead from Zanardi with five laps to go. He also won at Michigan later that season. But again, 1998 was the tale of two seasons for Greg Moore. After such a strong start to his season, the second half was punctuated with seven DNF’s, which caused him to finish fifth – another disappointment after leading the championship near the midpoint of the season.

The 1999 season would be a challenge to all the teams, as there would be twenty races held on four different continents. Like previous years, 1999 started strong for Greg as he won out of the box in the first race of the season at Homestead. He also had a fourth place finish in the next race at Motegi. But from that point, it was pretty much of a struggle for the Player’s team. The Mercedes-Ilmor engine that he was saddled with was on its last legs and was very uncompetitive. Again, the second half of the season was plagued with eight DNF’s for Moore.

Greg Moore was in the final year of his contract with Gerry Forsythe and he began to look at other potential rides for the 2000 season. At the same time, Roger Penske had been enduring a very un-Penske like run of mediocrity and was looking to clean house for the new millennium. Always keeping his eye on superb talent with average teams, Penske signed the two brightest rising stars in the series – Greg Moore and Gil de Ferran in the late summer, to be the new drivers for Marlboro Team Penske.

The long 1999 CART season was scheduled to wind down on October 31st with the Marlboro 500 at California Speedway in Fontana. It had been a disappointing season for Greg Moore, but he had much to look forward to in 2000 with his new ride with Roger Penske. However, there was still one more race to run at Fontana with his current team.

Prior to qualifying, Moore was on his scooter in the garage area when an automobile hit him. The collision knocked him from his scooter and broke his right hand. At first, it was unclear if Moore would be able to race. He had missed qualifying but after being fitted with a specially designed brace, Moore took to the track in a late afternoon test to prove to the doctors that he was able to drive and control the car. After posting lap times that would have placed him on the front row, Moore was cleared to drive in the race for the next day, although he would have to start from the back of the field after missing qualifying.

Moore immediately started passing cars two at a time as he made his way towards the front. On lap ten, he lost control of his car coming out of turn two and skidded onto the infield grass. The car seemed to be on ice as it slid toward the inside retaining wall, without slowing down much at all. Just before impact, the sideways moving car tripped a wheel in the grass – causing the car to begin a barrel roll. When the car tumbled into the concrete barrier, it practically disintegrated into pieces. What was remaining of the tub, lay upside down and motionless. Everyone feared the worst. I had a sinking feeling when I saw the crash live, that there was no way anyone could have survived – but you hope against hope. Unfortunately, the announcement came before the race was over. Greg Moore was dead at the age of twenty-four.

The race continued. It had to. Although death is not as common in racing as it was fifty years ago, it is still a possibility that all drivers live with and accept. There was still a championship to decide between Juan Montoya and Dario Franchitti. No drivers were told of the news during the race except for Moore’s teammate, Patrick Carpentier, who was called in and parked as the team dealt with the news. As a footnote, Adrian Fernandez won the race while Montoya and Franchitti ended the season in a tie, but the tiebreaker went to Montoya based on number of wins.

There were no victory celebrations afterward. Unbeknownst to the drivers, the flags at the track had already been lowered to half-mast before the race was over. Most drivers were told the news on their cool-down laps. The race broadcast was somber and the pits had a pall cast over them. The planned banquet the following night to celebrate the champion went on as scheduled at the request of Greg’s father, but instead of saluting the new champion – it became a tribute to Greg’s life.

Few drivers have made such an impact in their first four years in the series as Greg Moore. Michael Andretti and Sam Hornish come to mind, but neither of them was as likeable as Moore. I have followed this sport for forty-five years and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a young driver that held so many of the intangible qualities that a car owner and sponsor craves. He was the entire package. He was a superb driver that was liked and respected by his peers as well as the fans.

Greg Moore had that air about him that so few athletes carry. On the track, he could be smooth as silk yet have fiery aggression all on the same lap. Off the track, he had the star power to be confident without being overly cocky. He could be smooth and articulate in an interview, but still allow his charm and personality to come through.

In an ironic twist, Greg’s death opened the door for a recently unemployed, down on his luck driver named Helio Castroneves. Carl Hogan had just announced that his team would fold after the season and Helio would be without a ride. Within days of Greg’s death, Helio Castroneves was signed to replace Greg at Team Penske. Helio has since, parlayed that opportunity into three Indy 500 wins and stardom.

Had destiny not stepped in on that fateful day, who knows what kind of tandem Greg Moore and Gil de Ferran would have made? It’s such a hard thing to predict who would and would not have won the Indianapolis 500. Ten years ago, if given the choice between Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan and who would have had the most Indy wins – my money would have been on Kanaan. But if Greg Moore had lived to drive for Roger Penske, the odds are good that he could have been a multiple winner.

I thought it was a nice gesture that one of the championship contenders from that day and one of Greg’s closest friends, Dario Franchitti, chose the day that he won the 2009 championship as a day to pay homage to his friend, ten years later. It was a fitting tribute.

But all of the what-ifs cannot erase the events of that day ten years ago. Quite honestly, I can’t believe it has been that long. Over the years, I’ve seen many drivers killed in racing. I know it’s a part of the sport that will never fully go away, but you never get used to it. But I’ve never felt the sense of what might have been, as I did when I watched Greg Moore lose his life.

George Phillips

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13 Responses to “Greg Moore: What Might Have Been”

  1. Jim Gallo Says:

    We can all only imagine the “what-ifs” and why the good die so young. Thank you George once again for memories and the way you present them.
    Jim

  2. Wonderful article. I have a friend on a site that’s been posting some wonderful articles about Greg for me to read.

    Hopefully, one of Greg’s good friends, Max Papis, can kick butt this weekend for his friend.

  3. Tremendous tribute George. It can be a difficult thing to write about and it is just a shame that Greg’s accident came to pass.

  4. THIS is the best & brightest of the blogging world, and it makes me proud to be apart of it. Brilliantly done, Mr. Phillips.

  5. As much as people lament the losses of Stewart, Gordon and Irwin Jr to NASCAR during the 90’s, there was a 10 year period in there where a lot of North American born talent that died on the track. Moore, Krosnoff, Brayton, Renna and Dana – I honestly believe that this drain of talent is part of what has left open wheel racing in the situation it is in today…The star power is not NA native. While the series should always be a melting pot, there just not the mix that it needs for fans to associate with and to create a friendly rivalry. Hopefully, Graham, JR, Johnathan, Marco and Hinch can bring that back over the next 5 years…

    • Brian McKay Says:

      I also remember of Penske racer Gonzalo Rodríguez of Uruguay who died at Laguna Seca Raceway a month and a half earlier. I was lying immobile on hospital beds on the other side of the world when I saw both tragedies. I was mending after a horrific accident and surgeries, and when I saw those races, I felt so mentally pained though the deaths were likely instantaneous. I have to wonder why good, cherished people who enliven others’ lives die so young…

  6. Sadly I was @ California Speedway that day… what a bummer when a friend confirmed his death to me before the race ended. :( :(

  7. S.S. Minnow Says:

    Thanks for you also remembering Greg.

    We, too, could not believe what we heard.

    Our daughter’s tribute to Greg was to have a photo that I took of her with Greg printed in her High School yearbook. She also sent a copy of her yearbook and a letter to Greg’s father.

    The following is an article that appeared in http://www.motorsport .com with several perspectives from Greg’s fellow drivers.

    Ten years on: Greg Moore remembered
    Racing series KART OPENWHEEL INDYLIGHTS INDYCAR
    Date 2009-10-29

    By Tony DiZinno – Motorsport.com

    It has now been ten years since open-wheel racing lost one of its fan-friendliest, most articulate, brightest, fastest, and incredibly well-respected drivers. But with that said, the memories that Greg Moore left the world of motorsport live on to this day.

    Greg Moore, 1999 Homestead-Maimi Speedway. Photo by Jack Durbin.

    Moore, from Maple Ridge, B.C., Canada, was always destined for greatness, beginning from breaking into paddocks well before he was legally allowed to. He wore the number 99 in homage to his idol and hockey’s all-time greatest player, Wayne Gretzky.

    In another world, the spectacled pupil could have been merely a studious disciple in the classroom. Instead, at 19, he was busy teaching veterans how to wheel an Indy Lights car wickedly fast around ovals and road and street courses en route to capturing 10 of 12 races and the series championship.

    He made his debut in CART in 1996 and could have easily won in his first season, even his first race. He still emerged as the youngest winner in the series’ history with back-to-back victories at Milwaukee and Detroit in 1997.

    While he never won a championship in four seasons, Moore was always blindingly quick on the ovals as he carved his image in the striking light blue and white Player’s/Forsythe entry. As one of the drivers’ best friends away from the racetrack, Moore led what was then known as CART’s “Frat Pack” of young drivers.

    His breakout should have happened in 2000 after signing to race with Roger Penske’s team, as the “Captain” was destined to rebound from a winless four-year drought in search of the team’s 100th open-wheel victory.

    His competitors, rivals, and friends still talk about the legacy Moore left in such a short time period. They shared some of their most unique memories they had with the Canadian. Dario Franchitti, who just secured the 2009 IndyCar Series championship, was one of Moore’s closest friends and all kinds of memories to relate. He discussed first what Moore meant to him.

    “To me, there were kind of two sides,” Franchitti said. “There was the guy that was my friend, who was just so much fun to be around, and as loyal a friend as you’ll ever find. There’s also the personality that Greg had in the paddock, he brought everyone together. You still see all the guys who raced at that time hanging out together, as he organized it all. Everyone was segregated before that. We have him to thank for that. It takes a special personality to have that kind of magnitude.”

    Coming off the race in Motegi, Japan the race before the title decider, Franchitti said he and his friend and former teammate Tony Kanaan recalled when Moore provided one of the most incredible on-track displays of driving.

    Greg Moore, 1999 Detroit – The Raceway on Belle Isle. Photo by Robert Kurtycz.

    “We were actually talking about him in Japan last week while standing in pit lane,” Franchitti said. “(In 1999) he spun out of turn four and drove backwards down the front stretch. He had accelerated on hot tires, and shredded it. The tires went through the canvas! TK and I will be doing something together and woah, woah, imagine if Greg was here. I speak to Max (Papis) a lot about him as well.”

    Bryan Herta, another former teammate of Franchitti and Kanaan, raced against Moore both in the old Indy Lights series that Moore dominated in 1995 and in CART from 1996 to 1999.

    “I think one of the things that I remember most about Greg is on hot days, like we’d have at Mid-Ohio, he’d wear these clunky black shoes with his jeans and stuff,” Herta recalled. “On a hot day, he’d forget to pack his tennis shoes. I can still picture him riding his scooter by in shorts and these big clunky black shoes. It didn’t really match or fit. He had such a good heart, sense of humor, he’d laugh about it.”

    Franchitti also talked about Moore’s on-track prowess and some of the more superb races in his career. Although the two rarely battled for the lead amongst themselves, there were plenty of instances when Moore’s skill level floored the Scotsman.

    “Greg’s first race at Homestead was incredible,” he said. “My first memories of watching him drive came when I was still in DTM in Europe. Norbert Haug and I were there and he said ‘Alright, we’re going to watch the IndyCar race.’ We expected the usual suspects up there, but the Player’s car was passing everyone around the outside. This guy was just kicking everyone’s ass! Norbert tells me, ‘This is Moore, a young Canadian driver.’ The story of him that year was really impressive.”

    “The one race I had personally that sticks in my mind, was 1999 Homestead, Greg’s last win,” he added. “We were going back and forth for the lead. The times we raced together on track were few and far between. But there were times in practice, and even battled in practice at Michigan. I remember when he had Jimmy (Vasser) and (Alex) Zanardi to race at Michigan, and he managed to pull a move on both of them and beat them.”

    Greg Moore, 1999 Portland. Photo by John Francis.

    Michael Knight, CART’s first communications director in 1980 and a motorsports public relations veteran of more than 30 years, also recalled Moore’s debut race at Homestead 1996 as one of those spell-binding drives.

    “Greg came into CART the same year as Alex Zanardi, which a lot of people forget,” Knight said. “Greg began that season with sensational races in Homestead and Brazil and that had the media saying, ‘It’s just a matter of when Greg will win.’ The focus was on Greg and his speed was sensational.”

    Franchitti also had Moore to thank for the introduction to his future wife, Ashley Judd. It happened by chance, he related. “It was a combination of Greg and Jason Priestley, as they were concocting this whole thing,” he said. “So Jason was getting married at the time, and they organized the whole thing. We had to get from our last race Rio (Brazil) to Los Angeles, and the rest is history.”

    The 1999 season was particularly gut-wrenching for CART and for what would have been Moore’s future employer. Team Penske struggled in the final year with its own designed chassis, the lamented PC27B penned by John Travis that never finished better than seventh.

    Adding tragedy to misery on track, things got worse when Penske’s newest driver, F3000 race winner and promising Uruguayan rookie Gonzalo Rodriguez was killed in only his second-ever CART weekend as his car took off and catapulted over a catch fence at Laguna Seca’s infamous Corkscrew corner.

    Moore was hit in the pit lane the Saturday of the Fontana weekend while riding a scooter. It injured his right hand and Forsythe had signed Roberto Moreno on standby (a trademark of “Pupo’s” career), but Moore was determined to start regardless. Moore hit the proper speeds in a test the same day and had already gained nine spots in nine laps in Sunday’s race before the accident.

    Greg Moore, 1998 Laguna Seca. Photo by Kenneth Barton.

    The accident was one of those that you can’t stomach to watch more than once, and to the television coverage’s credit, ESPN announcer Paul Page dared not identify who the driver was until after the accident. Nor was a replay shown, which was a classy move but also a sign that we had witnessed something very dire. Herta recalled the horror of that day from the driver’s seat.

    “I don’t know if I’ve ever shared this story,” he said. “It was very early when Greg crashed. You get so, blase I guess, that so often you see these crashes that look bad and the guy gets out and is fine. You just assume everything’s alright.”

    “But they did something there, and I don’t know if its’ right or wrong, I tend to think it’s wrong. They have a big flag right in the front straight away and they moved it to half mast. I knew right away what that meant. It was a bad thing, and a hard thing, because now I’m out there racing, and you’re trying to put that aside. A lot of the guys didn’t notice the flag, but I noticed it.”

    “Scott Roembke was on the radio, I asked Scott, ‘How’s Greg?’ There was a pause, and he said ‘Bryan, we lost Greg.’ I didn’t want to race that day. It was like somebody dropped a ton of bricks on you. You have to keep going and it’s the worst thing in the world. The best quote I ever saw was the simplest and most eloquent, from Mario Andretti. He said, ‘Sometimes, unfortunately, motor racing is this too.’ It just sums it up as a really unfortunate consequence of what we do.”

    This marked a tragic end to the 1999 season, and it mattered not that a gripping title battle between Franchitti and series rookie Juan Pablo Montoya ended in a tie with Montoya winning on a tiebreaker. It mattered not that Adrian Fernandez (who by pure coincidence had also won the 1996 race at Toronto when Jeff Krosnoff was killed) scored the win or that Max Papis and Christian Fittipaldi flanked him at the post-race press conference.

    Greg Moore and his dad Ric Moore at Michigan International Speedway, 1999. Photo by Jack Durbin.

    The grief was palpable for a long period afterwards, but from that point it was the legacy and the mark Moore left on the series and the world of motorsport that began to grow. Immediately after the season, CART retired his number 99, so Moore had equaled his hero in that regard.

    The Greg Moore Legacy Award was born in 2000, given to a driver “who most typifies Moore’s distinctive combination of on-track talent and dynamic personality.” Past recipients are Helio Castroneves (2000), Dario Franchitti (2001), Patrick Carpentier (2002), Sebastien Bourdais (2003), Ryan Hunter-Reay (2004), Oriol Servia (2005), and Justin Wilson (2006-2007). The Legacy Award was restored in Firestone Indy Lights competition for 2009 and series champion JR Hildebrand is this year’s recipient.

    “Greg was a shining star in open-wheel racing, although he never raced “in IRL, so one thing they struggle with is how to reconcile all “those things,” Herta said. How do you incorporate history? There are “memorials for Scott Brayton, there’s a Tony Renna award. I don’t know “how you rectify it.”

    In his time in the series, Moore found a way to relate and connect to everyone in some way, shape, or form, myself included. As a bright-eyed 10-year-old, I sat across from him at the Long Beach airport after an uncompetitive weekend when Montoya won his first CART race.

    I showed him a hand-drawn race report I had done previously — from his win at that year’s season-opening victory at Homestead — and he was impressed. So much so, he told me, “That’s really cool you’re doing that. It’s great to see your interest level.”

    Moore had no reason to bestow those words, as I was just a young fan going up to him at an airport after a tough weekend. He could have been rude, disinterested or just humoring me, but that wasn’t the case at all. I could tell he appreciated it and I was captivated by a big name race driver who had a vested interest in someone younger.

    “In hearts and minds of fans, Greg captured the imagination with a unique driving style and that’s the most important thing,” Herta said. “The award would be nice, but to carry the legacy forward is to remember what he brought to the sport.”

    “Those friends that you make, they last a lifetime,” Franchitti summed up Moore’s legacy. “That was the thing with Greg — he connected with everyone. That was part of what made him such a great individual.”

    Discuss this article in the Motorsport.com Forums channel: KART OPENWHEEL

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  8. Brian, keep of the great work. I never watched Greg, but, he sounds like a great driver and person. It’s great that the Indycar community pays tribute to him. Now, all they need to do is bring back the Greg Moore award.

    Paige, it would be awsome if Max could win, it’s RP racing, anything’s possible.

  9. Thank you for this lovely tribute to Greg Moore, he truly was an exceptional racing driver, but also an exceptional person too. His tragic death still resonates as a huge loss even now 10 years on, as the many what if’s and wonderful memories continue to prove. He may not have had the chance to fulfil his true potential in the sport, but he still left a lasting legacy of courage and spirit, as both a racer and a human being, that many an old stager would be proud of.

  10. California Speedway was unsafe at that time. The emergency roads had curbs on them. This is what tripped Moore’s car. The wall he hit was angled toward the track making any impact more severe. Every time Castro-neves wins Indy I think of Greg.

  11. I just came across this article this morning. Since October 2009, I have become a fan of Greg’s best friends Dario Franchitti, Tony Kaanan & Max Papis. I also received a Greg Moore autographed hat an old friend gave me. I also received Greg Moore Legacy of Spirit for Christmas in 2010. In 2011 I had the change to meet Dario Franchitti and he signed Greg’s book for me. The one thing that is on my mind is the upcoming Indycar Championship in 2 weeks as the final race is at Auto Club Speedway. I hope those fans, drivers and owners have a moment to remember Greg.

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