CHAMPCAR/CART: Tributes mount for racing hero

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Tributes mount for racing hero In Maple Ridge, home to a trio of major sports success stories, an unusual shrine rises in memory of driver Greg Moore. By Ken MacQueen, Vancouver Sun VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Nov....

Tributes mount for racing hero In Maple Ridge, home to a trio of major sports success stories, an unusual shrine rises in memory of driver Greg Moore.

By Ken MacQueen, Vancouver Sun

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Nov. 2, 1999) -- Ric Moore once explained why his Chrysler dealership in Maple Ridge held so few pictures of his famous son, Greg: his creation, his friend, his joy.

"You can't build a shrine to him," he said in 1996. "The more people talk about him, the less they talk about buying a car."

In the years since, son and father racked up a string of successes. Ric sold plenty of cars, moving up the street to a sleek new facility on West Street. Greg, of course, achieved wealth and fame as a gifted driver on the international CART racing circuit.

His death, at age 24, in a horrific crash in California Sunday during the final CART race of 1999, has stunned all of Maple Ridge -- a community that has come to define itself by its champions.

And at the entrance to Ric Moore's dealership, there is a shrine. A most improbable shrine, but an achingly appropriate one.

It rests in the bed of a brilliant red Dodge Dakota Sport pickup. By Monday afternoon it overflowed with flowers and notes, with stuffed animals and candles.

"Home town hero," said one. "Thanks for everything, we will all miss you," said another. Another, from Jennifer, was all the more poignant for its lapse in spelling: "When I saw you at Indy I cheered for you. I will always cheer for you. You are my idle."

The tribute was not planned, certainly not by a father still stunned and reeling with grief. It happened spontaneously, as the sprawling, fast-growing community searched for an outlet and a focal point for its pain.

It had to be the dealership.

Everyone knows the story of a boy who grew up on wheels, starting on go-karts and graduating with blinding speed into a succession of faster vehicles and more famous venues.

Everyone knows the story of Ric, himself once an amateur racer, who set his son loose in the dealership parking lot with his first motorized kart at age six. From that day on, his father was never far away -- financing a hobby, managing his career, offering a final word in the tense, fearful moments before a race.

And so the flowers came, until Ian Speckman, general sales manager, could not bear to see them resting on the ground. "We didn't think it was very appropriate just to lay the flowers down."

They were placed in the pickup, which was used this September as a parade vehicle during the Molson Indy Vancouver. Over top, they placed a white awning.

"He was a local hero as well as an international one, so we decided it would be a nice way to put it together," said Speckman Monday.

Yet, as he spoke he worried that the extra traffic, the pedestrians darting across the road and the convoy of television satellite trucks might cause yet another accident.

Still, the shrine has offered a public place to grieve. The family announced Monday that a private memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday at St. Andrew's Wesley Church in Vancouver. A public memorial will be held in Maple Ridge at a later date.

"Our entire family is overwhelmed by this tragedy," Ric Moore said in a statement issued Monday. "Losing a child is never easy, no matter what their age. However, we are equally overwhelmed by the genuine kindness and compassion of all those who are sharing the very personal loss with us."

Speckman said Moore is doing as well as can be expected.

"They were best friends and father and son," he said. "He lost two people yesterday: his best friend, his son."

Al Fuller of Port Coquitlam set a basket of flowers beside the pickup.

As a younger man in the 1980s he used to race sedans against Ric. "At our level there is no real risk. At his level," he says of Greg, his voice tails off.

"They're going too fast. Super, super, super fast. It happened too quick, nobody can react to those things."

He remembered Greg hanging around the dealership with his father. "I don't know how he's going to do it," he said of Ric.

"Those two," he said, shaking his head. "His dad was probably having more fun than Greg.

He was so pumped about it all."

Across the road in a much less sporty red pickup, Bev Leon was crying. Greg had gone to school with her son, Patrick, she said.

She described a nearby McDonald's restaurant which displays Greg Moore memorabilia: photos, one of his racing gloves and an autographed shirt behind glass.

Little kids would stare at it and say that some day they would be just like him, she said.

"I'd just loved that he was from Maple Ridge," she said, struggling to compose herself. "It's just so sad that we have to lose such an inspirational person."

That particular restaurant also carries tributes to two other hometown heroes: baseball great Larry Walker of the Colorado Rockies and former Boston Bruins hockey star Cam Neely.

Moore was the youngest of a triumvirate. It is no small thing to be a hero in Maple Ridge; it carries responsibilities as well as adulation.

At Pitt Meadows secondary, where Moore attended his senior years, someone has placed a small wreath around his picture on the 1993 graduating class photo displayed in the front hall.

Students at the school, where the flag flew at half-staff, called him a role model. Many said they had autographs; most said they'd followed his career.

School counsellor Peter Malakoff called Moore an "unassuming" student who didn't broadcast his successes.

"He didn't brag about it and he didn't spin his tires outside here," he said looking at the street outside the school. "Nobody knew he was doing as well as he did until he got famous."

Jim Longridge, his former principal at Pitt Meadows, called Moore's death "a huge loss to our community."

Longridge is now principal at Westview secondary, where both Walker and Neely attended classes before rocketing to their own celebrity.

He recalls Ric working out a deal that allowed Greg to juggle both studies and a racing schedule during Grade 12. "It was never a problem," said Longridge. "I think he recognized in his son a huge ability to drive competitively so I think he encouraged him in a number of different ways."

Maple Ridge Mayor Carl Durksen said Monday that Moore was a generous, caring young man who remained active in his community. "Greg never forgot his roots."

He said in a statement that the community will consider ways to celebrate Moore's achievements after consulting with his family at a more appropriate time.

Premier Dan Miller expressed condolences. "Greg Moore's willingness to help others and his attachment to his community . . . are mourned as much as his phenomenal ability in the sport he loved."

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Ken MacQueen is a sports reporter for The Vancouver Sun , he can be reached at kmacqueen@pacpress.southam.ca via e-mail. Thanks to Vancouver Sun for permission to reprint this story

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Series INDYCAR