MAPLE RIDGE, B.C. (CP) - Fans by the hundreds sadly hailed their fallen home town idol Greg Moore on Thursday, joining family and friends to remember the youth, charm and extraordinary racing prowess stilled forever on a California speedway. "Greg has gone from us but those of us who knew him know what he'd be saying," his father Ric Moore said during a moving tribute to his son at the end of an hour-long memorial service.
"He'd be saying, 'Hey guys, lighten up and have some fun. Remember me as I was, a regular guy who had a great job. I was lucky to have the best job in the world, great friends and family and really lived my 24 years to the fullest.' "
His father was one of the last speakers at the service inside the packed Maple Ridge Baptist Church, where 1,500 people listened to several speakers while hundreds more gathered outside to hear the service on a large video screen under a makeshift tent.
"Greg had a dream to become the best racing car driver in the world," said his father. "His hero was Ayrton Senna, the Brazilian who was also killed. Greg never met Senna, but hopefully they'll hook up in Greg's next life and race the heavens together."
Moore, who moved with ease and stunning speed from racing go-karts as a youngster to the super-powered heights of the CART series, was killed Sunday in a sickening crash at the Marlboro 500.
The 24-year-old Moore - the youngest driver to win a series race - was killed on lap 10 of the final CART race of the season at Fontana, Calif.
In front of his parents, girlfriend and a TV audience, he died instantly when his Mercedes-Benz-powered Reynard disintegrated after crashing into a wall at more than 350 kilometres an hour.
In contrast to the rain and leaden skies in Vancouver on Wednesday, where family and racing brethren remembered him at a private service, the sun shone as the crowds gathered.
A pleasant and quiet community of 63,000, Maple Ridge is located on the northern side of the Fraser River, about 50 kilometres east of Vancouver.
Hundreds of high school students also attended, many having to stand outside the church under a huge tent because the church was filled to capacity long before the service began.
"We came to pay our respects like everyone else," said Tony Gressel, 17.
"It seems like everyone in town knew him. He was a friendly guy and you'd see him everywhere."
The scene outside the church resembled the hoopla surrounding the Indy car races that Moore used to excel in.
Several news vehicles, some with their long antennas extended, were parked in the church parking lot. The service was broadcast live on a local cablevision channel.
Inside the church, a picture of Greg Moore dressed in a tuxedo was displayed on a huge screen at the front of the church. Emblazoned across the screen were the simple words Greg Moore 1975-1999.
Moore's close friend Alan Robbie drew some smiles and laughs from the crowd while describing Moore's mischievous nature and some of the antics that he and Moore got up to in their youth in Maple Ridge.
Robbie described Moore as a generous and thoughtful man who "wanted all his friends to experience the glamour that went along with racing."
Many neighbours in the area surrounding their church gave up their lawns and driveways to accommodate the hundreds of vehicles crowded into the area.
While sudden death should come as no surprise in high-speed auto racing, the shock and reaction to Moore's passing has been widespread in this area.
Perhaps because of his young age and brilliant promise that ended so swiftly, newspapers have devoted reams of copy and TV stations have put together special tributes.
Moore seemed a racing prodigy, breaking into the CART series in 1996. A year later and only 22, Moore won his first CART race - at Milwaukee in his 23rd start.
He was driving go-karts at 10 and by 14 had won the 1989 North American Enduro championships.
He was rookie of the year in two developmental series - Formula 1600 and Formula 2000 West - before moving into Indy Lights in 1993, the stepping stone to CART.
He was 18 when he won his first Indy Lights race in 1994.
In 72 CART races, Moore had five wins and 17 podium finishes.
That meteoric rise, the promise of a great future and a sparkling personality led many of his racing buddies to pay their respects a day earlier at the private memorial in Vancouver.
His father and close friend Ric, sister Annie and brother James, his mother and stepmother were joined at a downtown church by several CART drivers and officials.
Formula One driver Jacques Villeneuve was joined by fellow Canadian racer Paul Tracy. Other drivers included Dario Franchitti, Max Papis, Jimmy Vasser, Adrian Fernandez, Patrick Carpentier, Juan Montoya and Mark Blundell.
Moore's body was cremated Tuesday.
Thanks to The Vancouver Sun for premission to repinrt this story.