CHAMPCAR/CART: Greg Moore surprised us in life and in death

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Iain MacIntyre, Vancouver Sun It was the summer of 1991 and Greg Moore, buoyed by earning his driver's licence in just his second try, was telling a reporter how he was going off to conquer motorsports. Greg at 16 looked like Ron Howard at...

Iain MacIntyre, Vancouver Sun

It was the summer of 1991 and Greg Moore, buoyed by earning his driver's licence in just his second try, was telling a reporter how he was going off to conquer motorsports.

Greg at 16 looked like Ron Howard at 12, which is to say a mature Opie. He was tall and fair-haired with wire-rimmed glasses, possessed a wholesome, innocent bearing and boyish enthusiasm that was infectious. But somehow the plan seemed incompatible with the person.

This skinny kid hoped to race Indy cars, to be the next Paul Tracy?

True, he had been a champion kart racer. But when that vehicle was brought out of the garage of his Maple Ridge home as proof, there was some confusion as to whether it was a side-bagger or a rear-bagger. You could barely picture Greg driving his dad's car to the mall, let alone pilot a race car against men at speeds where a mistake could be fatal.

As with his driver's licence, it took only two tries that summer to get his first victory. Greg Moore surprised us, in life and in death.

His crash last Sunday in California seemed as much at odds with him as a driver as his lofty dreams only eight years earlier.

He was one of the best drivers in Indy cars, but he was also one of the most restrained. He rarely tried to win races on the first lap, instead carefully assessing the machine he had under him that day, then pushing everything he could from it.

The sight Sunday of his car disintegrating as it struck an unprotected concrete barrier is a horrifying memory. Thankfully, it is far outnumbered by happier ones.

I will remember going for a drive with Greg in a sports car down the Lougheed Highway, expecting to see some of that fancy professional driving stuff. Instead, Greg, as if knowing the race driver stereotype, slyly stayed bang-on the speed limit while driving more like Morgan Freeman than Mario Andretti.

And how later, when we entered his favourite Maple Ridge cafe, the staff greeted him like Norm Peterson arriving at Cheers, then left him alone to drink his coffee and shoot pool.

I'll remember how he greeted everyone - other drivers, fans, even (gasp) reporters - with a smile, and never publicly lost patience or poise, even when Christian Fittipaldi stepped from his car after a race collision and wanted to fight.

I'll remember his first race in an Indy car, at Homestead, Fla., when the 20-year-old passed every car in the field as he moved from a lap down and the back of the pack to finish seventh, denied victory in his maiden race only by a stop-and-go penalty.

And how, as I ran down pit lane, I saw that as many reporters were crowded around Greg as winner Jimmy Vasser.

I'll remember his grin and his gait, that pointy-toed, springy stride he inherited along with so much else from his father Ric. When he was happy, which seemed most of the time, Greg always appeared to be exiting a stage after an encore in Up With People.

I'll remember how much he loved his family and especially his dad, and how he admitted once that a small part of his motivation early in his career was to please his father, as all sons try to do, but that he was soon racing for himself, happy that Ric could be part of it and near him.

And I'll always remember how much he loved this province and this country, returning to Maple Ridge while his colleagues went home to Miami, Phoenix or Monaco - places where the temperature was higher and the taxes lower.

>From this week, I'll remember how 1,200 friends, family and colleagues attended Greg's "private" memorial in Vancouver, and how twice that number went to a church in Maple Ridge to laugh and cry.

How Vasser, Dario Franchitti and Max Papis - an American, Scotsman and Italian who were part of the Moore-led brat pack in Indy - spilled their hearts to mourners whose only link to them was the one they'd come to mourn.

And how Moore's boss, Gerald Forsythe, normally a stoic billionaire team owner, was weeping before he got to the podium and was weeping when he left, repeating his promise to Greg before their final race together Sunday that someday they would race again as a team.

More than anything else this week, I will remember the grace and humbling strength of Greg's father, who willed himself to speak at his son's memorials. And how Ric Moore somehow managed in Vancouver to keep his profound grief from gushing out in tears until he told how his son, dead at 24, never failed to call him at least once a day from wherever he was.

And Ric kept hoping the phone would ring again, and it would be Greg and he would say, as he he always did: "Hi Pops, how's it going?" And everything would be well. But the phone does not ring, and some of the light has left the world.

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Thanks to The Vancouver Sun for permission to reprint this story.

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Series INDYCAR