Saturday, October 31, 2009

Greg Moore – 10 years after

So like always, its hard to believe that a decade has already passed since the fatal tragedy that claimed one of CART’s rising Stars on Halloween occurred, thus taking Greg Moore’s life in the 1999 CART Season Finale’s Marlboro 500 at the California Speedway…

As I can still recall seeing Moore’s Player’s liveried Forsythe Reynard/Mercedes Benz violently Barrel-rolling multiple times along the circuits high bank knowing that it would be a miracle for Moore to escape un-injured; especially at the unabated speed of 200mph plus!

Yet for reasons unknown, the strongest memory of the late Greg Moore I seem to harbor is his overly foolish Bonsai carnival-like maneuver into the Festival Curves at the start of the 1998 Portland G.I. Joes 200, where as “Auntie” Harriet would say… He was acting like a “Hot Head!”

As almost co medically, Moore attempted to leapfrog his way into the lead from P14 and in the process managed to eliminate seven Racers!

Yet obviously the New Westminster native, who grew-up in the Maple Ridge suburb of Vancouver, BC had unbridled talent, as none other than the legendary “Captain” Roger Penske had just inked him to a (Multi-year) contract during the summer of 1999 to become a Penske Racing Driver for the 2000 season before his untimely incident.

Like many “Kanuck’s” Moore played Ice Hockey as a youth and ironically the No. 99 would be assigned to him when he began his Karting career… Thus reputedly having nothing to do with the revered “Great One,” (Wayne Gretsky) although certainly the connection wasn’t lost to Greg, as it would become his Car number throughout his CART career...

And like most Open Wheel Racecar Drivers, Moore cut his teeth in Go-Karts, winning the 1989-90 North American Enduro Championship before progressing to Formula Ford’s, where in 1991 he was the Formula Ford 1600 Rookie of the Year after finishing fourth overall with one victory.

In 1992, Moore became the USAC West FF2000 (Formula Ford) Champion, having claimed four Poles and four victories enroute to the title, along with being the series Rookie of the Year, before moving onto the (original) Indy Lights series, which he ran in 1993 for his Family’s underfunded Team and finished ninth overall.

In 1994 Greg became the youngest ever winner of a (CART Sanctioned) Indy Lights race at the tender age of 18 when he took the chequered flag at the season opening round in Phoenix, AZ and would record two more wins that season enroute to finishing third in the Championship.

For 1995, Greg joined the Players/Forsythe Racing Organisation and simply crushed the competition enroute to the Indy Lights Championship with a staggering ten wins out of twelve races, including a scintillating five-in-a-row… And thus was destined to make his move up to the “Big Boyz” the following season.

In his Debutant season, Moore scored 84 points and finished as runner-up in the CART/PPG’s Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year standings behind somebody named “Zorro,” a.k.a. Alex Zanardi.

In 1997, Greg then became the Championship Auto Racing Teams youngest ever winner (to that date; since eclipsed by Scott Dixon and Nelson Philippe) at the age of 22 when he beat Michael Andretti to the stripe at the famed Milwaukee Mile and would repeat as winner again just one week later… As I recall screaming at the Telescreen as not one but both of my Home team’s PacWest Racing Drivers; Mauricio Gugelmin and Mark Blundell who were running nose to tail 1-2 both sputtered out of petrol on the final lap and Moore swept thru from third place to claim victory on Detroit’s Belle Isle.

In ’98 Greg was joined by fellow Canadian Patrick Carpentier as Players/Forsythe expanded to a two car operation and Moore would dice with Zanardi at the Emerson Fittipaldi Speedway (“Roval”) in Rio de Janeiro before making a spectacular pass to solidify his fourth Champ Car victory, before later that year he’d pass the Target Boyz duo of Zanardi and Jimmy Vasser to claim the Vanderbuilt Cup in the US 500 at Michigan International Speedway, which was sadly overshadowed by the deaths of three spectators from a flying tyre that bounded over the catch fencing.

The year 1999 would start off very good for the Kanuck, once again taking victory in the season opening race in Miami, this time on the Oval Track at Homestead, which sadly would become his final Indy Car career victory, as Moore would suffer fatal head injuries on his early race incident at Fontana. (As the violent crash registered an incomprehensible 154 G’s!)

And ironically the Halloween race weekend had started out ominously for Greg when he was struck on his “Scooter” by a vehicle in the Paddock, suffering an injured right hand with Roberto Moreno being called-in by Players/Forsythe as a Back-up replacement, although Greg would take the Green flag from the rear of the field, having been cleared to drive with a hand brace.

And as I’ve said before, reportedly it was Greg whom introduced the “Dashley ‘Juan,” nee Dario Franchitti to his future wife (Ashley Judd) at a party of friend Jason Priestley's… As Greg’s posse was known to include the likes of “Mad Max” (Massimiliano) Papis, “TK,” (Tony Kanaan) “REO Speedwagon” (Dario Franchitti) and others I cannot recall, (Greg Moore Brat Pack: Adrian Fernandez, Franchitti, Kanaan, Papis and Jimmy Vasser) as I was overly touched by Dario dedicating his 2009 Indy Car Series Championship at Homestead to his late, great, friend…

Remembering Gregg Moore
1993-95: CART Indy Lights
1995 Indy Lights Champion

1996-99: CART/PPG Championship
72 Starts; 5 Poles; 5 Wins; 17 Podiums.
First race, 1996: Homestead-Miami Speedway; Homestead, FL
Last race, 1999: California Speedway; Fontana, CA