CHAMPCAR/CART: Greg and his best pal had a deal

Greg and his best pal had a deal But Allan Robbie never had to carry through with his promise to set Greg Moore straight when he got too big for his britches Commentary by Gary Mason, Vancouver Sun VANCOUVER, British Columbia ...

Greg and his best pal had a deal But Allan Robbie never had to carry through with his promise to set Greg Moore straight when he got too big for his britches

Commentary by Gary Mason, Vancouver Sun

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Nov. 2, 1999) -- They had a deal.

If he ever started getting too big for his britches, acting like he was better than the people who were friends long before he became a big-time racing star, then Allan Robbie had the green light to straighten his buddy out any way he wanted to.

"Well, did you ever have to?" Robbie is asked, about the lifelong pact he struck with his best friend, Greg Moore.

"Never once."

Allan Robbie is on the telephone. His voice is weary. He arrived home from California late Sunday night and since then has spent most of his time at the home of his best friend's dad, Ric Moore, sharing his grief, spilling tears like so many others who have come to gather there, struggling with all the memories of his friend that keep flooding to the surface.

"Greg had talent as a driver," Robbie says, a tremour grabbing his words. "But he always wanted everybody around him to have an enjoyable time. That's the way he lived his life. He really cared about the people around him."

As I listen to him talk, I'm struck by how young Allan Robbie sounds. He is. Only 24. The same age as the friend he saw die in Sunday's gut-wrenching crash during the Marlboro 500. Two friends who had so much adventure still to chase, laughter to share. Life, as buddies, to live.

As we talked, the outside world tried to make sense out of Moore's death but struggled as well.

Media machines kicked into next-day mode. Old quotes from Moore about the dangers of racing were regurgitated, now framed by the chilling spectre of his death. "It's just that you'll never be able to make race cars completely safe," one wire story remembered Moore saying. "Things happen at speed."

On the internet you could go to ESPN's site and relive the horror of the crash in gory freeze-frame detail. Was this really necessary? For its part, a public wondered aloud if the sport of auto racing had compromised the safety of its drivers while constantly thirsting for more speed from its cars.

Should Moore have been racing with a broken finger? Was the race track safe? Was the car? Most of the next-day questions weren't new. If you checked, many were the focus of day-after stories following the last auto racing death and the one before that.

Meantime, in Maple Ridge, tears fell, stomachs pained and Allan Robbie strained to cope with his loss.

He had met Moore, he told me, when the two were teenagers. Greg was coaching his younger brother's hockey team. Allan was the referee. They eventually got to know each other better. No one remembers when they became like brothers themselves.

Allan would help Greg and his dad at races as his friend worked his way to the top of the racing world. This is when a friendship could have been strained. When it would have been easy for Greg Moore to forget fishing trips and pool halls in Maple Ridge.

After all, he moved in different circles now.

That wasn't Greg.

Nope, even when his was the flashy smile on magazine covers Greg Moore was never too big for the living room of Allan Robbie's house, where he could fall asleep on a chair in seconds flat, or head down to the neighbourhood pub with his friend and his dad, sip on a Diet Coke and slip out of his racing star persona for awhile.

The last time Greg Moore was at his friend's house was to drop off his birthday present. It was an airline ticket to California for his buddy to come and see Moore's final race of the season. There was usually a big party after the season-ending event. It would be fun.

Moore would see to that. He always did.

Allan Robbie saw his best friend come out of the second turn at the California Speedway Sunday afternoon. Then he saw Moore's familiar blue car with the number 99 on the side suddenly spinning out of control.

"I didn't see the impact."

The next time Allan saw Moore was at the hospital. The ambulance pulled up and there was his buddy, being wheeled into the hospital on a stretcher.

Allan Robbie has lots of special memories of his friendship with Moore. Memories - like the last memories he shared with his friend - he prefers, for now, to keep to himself.

It's clear it would be too hard to talk about anyway.

"I've seen him crash 100 times and it's never ..." he says, his voice shaking. "I'm glad I never saw him hit the wall to be honest."

Allan Robbie sighs, the way someone sighs when they're not quite sure what to say or do next. Or when your breath is suddenly cut short.

My heart breaks for him.

"It was the hardest day of my life ..." he says, his voice trailing off.

He has to go.

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Gary Mason is a sports reporter for The Vancouver Sun , he can be reached at garmason@direct.ca via e-mail. Thanks to The Vancouver Sun for permission to reprint this story.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Gary Mason , Greg Moore