Obituary

Tragedy in the fast lane

Family, friends mourn Greg Moore

James Deacon November 15 1999
Obituary

Tragedy in the fast lane

Family, friends mourn Greg Moore

James Deacon November 15 1999

Tragedy in the fast lane

Obituary

Family, friends mourn Greg Moore

Speed kills, and Greg Moore knew it. The dashing British Columbian accepted the risks—of injury, disability, even death—that were part of driving race cars for a living. He wasn’t cocky about it, nor was he convinced of some innate invincibility. He was simply an optimist. In the precociously calm manner in which he approached his life, the 24-yearold from Maple Ridge weighed racing’s risks against his own considerable abilities and liked his odds. His training and experience enabled him to judge the limits of his car and of himself, and he had a rare talent—some of it learned, most of it innate—that allowed him to push those limits without overstretching himself. But no driver can control everything on the track. Moore said so himself just two days before his death. “You’ll never be able to make race cars completely safe,” he told reporters at California Speedway prior to last week’s ill-fated Marlboro 500. “Things happen at speed.”

For family, friends and fans, Moore’s own philosophical words will have to suffice as an answer to why he died. By late last week, track officials still weren’t sure exactly what did happen at 350 km/h to cause the driver to lose control and crash horrifically into an exposed concrete barrier. Helio Castro-Neves, the driver immediately behind Moore on the 10th lap of the race, said it appeared the car simply hit a bump in the track, lifted a bit and started to spin. But that, critics charged, would not have proven fatal with better safety precautions around the track, and some drivers wondered privately why the race

was allowed to continue when it was clear Moore had been killed. Adrian Fernandez, the Mexican star who won the Marlboro race, was disconsolate. “This is a tragedy for all of us,” he said, in tears. “The win doesn’t mean anything.”

Handsome, single and quick to smile, Moore was among the most popular drivers in one of North America’s most popular sports. He dominated every series from kids’ go-carts on up, and at times he seemed capable of doing the same on the top-ranked CART circuit for Player’s Racing. At 20, after setting the record for most victories in a single season on the second-tier Indy Lights series, Moore was promoted to fill the Player’s seat left vacant when Jacques Villeneuve signed to

drive in Formula One. In 1997, at 22, Moore became the youngest driver ever to win a CART race, and for stretches of the past two seasons, he led the overall points race. On both occasions, he eventually fell back by year’s end, but that, experts say, was due to the failings of the car, not of its driver.

His death angered many in the tight community of drivers. David Empringham, a racing instructor and former Player’s teammate of Moore’s, said gravel spillways and tire barriers used at many other tracks might have slowed Moore’s spin through the infield and cushioned his crash against the exposed cement wall. “Hopefully,” Empringham said, “this will make a lot of people sit down and take another look at how to make these things safer.” There was sadness, too, particularly at a private funeral in Vancouver attended by many in the racing world, including Canadian stars Paul Tracy, Patrick Carpentier and Villeneuve, who flew from Europe when he heard the news. “Everyone knew he was a hell of a race car driver,” fellow driver Jimmy Vasser told the 1,200 who attended the service, “but he was 10 times the human being.”

Moore always marvelled at his own good fortune, to be paid so well for something he loved to do, and he was a champion autograph-signer for kids and fans alike. As a tribute to Moore’s upbeat attitude, his father, Ric, said at a public memorial in Maple Ridge that given the chance, his son would tell mourners to “ ‘lighten up and have some fun. Remember me as I was, a regular guy who had a great job.’ ” That modesty was the quality fans and friends cited most often in notes pinned to bouquets left at the memorial. So it was fitting that, while he made his name as a great driver, Greg Moore will be remembered for being a great guy.

James Deacon