CHAMPCAR/CART: Heavy hearts bid Moore good-bye

Heavy hearts bid Moore good-bye Mike Beamish,Vancouver Sun A face of pure joy. So vital. So vibrant. So expressive. So sudden. Gone in a heartbeat. Not many of the young chargers in Championship Auto Racing Teams have had to attend the ...

Heavy hearts bid Moore good-bye

Mike Beamish,Vancouver Sun A face of pure joy. So vital. So vibrant. So expressive. So sudden. Gone in a heartbeat.

Not many of the young chargers in Championship Auto Racing Teams have had to attend the funeral of one of their closest friends before. On Wednesday, they said their good-byes to Greg Moore in a procession that was so unlike their 200 mile-per-hour day jobs. Moore was cremated Tuesday.

With hearts heavy, Paul Tracy, Dario Franchitti, Max Papis, Jimmy Vasser, Adrian Fernandez, Patrick Carpentier, series champion Juan Montoya, and Mark Blundell were among the mourners at St. Andrew's-Wesley United Church in downtown Vancouver to pay tribute in a private ceremony to Moore. The 24-year-old from suburban Maple Ridge was killed Sunday in a crash at the California Speedway in Fontana, Calif. Formula One driver Jacques Villeneuve was also there to offer support for Greg's family, father Ric, mother and stepmother Donna, brother James, sister Annie, friends and relatives, the Player's/Forsythe Racing team and the rest of the closeknit CART community.

A cold November rain and grey skies outside the packed church captured the mood of what has been an especially sombre week for the racing organization.

Scott Pruett is switching to NASCAR stockers. Al Unser Jr. is leaving for the rival Indy Racing League. And Walter Payton, a retired Hall of Fame running back who kept his competitive juices flowing as co-owner of Dale Coyne's CART team, succumbed to cancer on Monday.

Old friends leaving. Others gone. But the loss of Moore is almost incomprehensible, says Paul Tracy, a fellow Canadian driver who lives in Las Vegas. Tracy said the full impact of Sunday's crash will register next March, when the CART series reconvenes in Florida, and the smiling kid in the No. 99 car is no longer there.

"I think that's when it will hit me the hardest," Tracy said. "Greg is a guy we won't forget."

When word reached the paddock Sunday that Moore was dead, many of his fellow drivers were unconsolable, especially Franchitti, the 25-year-old Scot who was Moore's closest friend on the circuit.

"I've only known Greg for three years, but those were three great years," said Franchitti, who was with his girlfriend, Ashley Judd.

A weeping Gerry Forsythe related how he told Moore before Sunday's race: "This is not our last race. We will race again together and we will."

Three months ago, Roger Penske lured Moore, now firmly established as a championship contender, away from Player's/Forsythe to lead the revival of Marlboro Team Penske at an annual salary of $3.5 million US.

"Ric Moore devoted his life to Greg's career," Penske said. "I've never seen a stronger bond between father and son."

Typically, Ric Moore was in the spotter's area at Fontana to witness his son's fatal crash. Ric and Greg were inseparable. Even when apart, Greg would dutifully call up his dad from wherever his travels took him and say, "Hi Pops, how's it going?"

"I don't know if there's a heaven," Ric said in a halting voice, "but if there is, I know Greg will be on the pole."

"He was a great racer, but 10 times the human being," Vasser added.

Professional sports is often referred to as kids' games played by grown men. But the thing that strikes you the most when listening to Moore's colleagues is how the little boy in him never left.

As a celebrity, Moore was mature beyond his years in so many ways, polished, well-spoken, a sponsor's dream - except when confronting his own mortality. That was the boy in him. His hero was a deceased driver - three-time world champion Ayrton Senna, whose death in 1994 plunged his native Brazil into a three-day state of national mourning.

After driver Jeff Krosnoff was killed at the 1996 Molson Indy Toronto, Moore brushed off the perils of his profession with typical insouciance, telling the Vancouver Sun: "If I crash, I crash. I have no family, hardly any bills to worry about. So I'm out there giving 150 per cent."

That was the public persona.

As a regular guy, Moore was fun-loving, spontaneous, adventurous, a cut-up, the social convenor.

Vasser, who lives in Las Vegas, said he was introduced to previously unexplored areas of Sin City by the young Canadian. Greg was the guy who made sure everybody has having a good time Vasser says, treating life as one big fun house.

"Greg was really a pilot light for us as far as doing things," Vasser said. "He was really the common denominator, bringing guys together for fun and good times. If you start asking me for one story about him, I'll think of 10. I went to my first professional prize fights in Vegas because of Greg. He took me as his date. He'd breeze into town and call me up, "Hey, J.V.!" He'd always come to town with no clothes to wear, and he would love to go and buy a new suit at Caesars Palace. He loved blackjack and the casinos, and he got in the habit of buying fancy watches. He took pride in the fine things he had. But he always lived at home."

Not only is Moore being mourned for the loss of an astonishing talent who seemed destined to follow in the tire marks of the Villeneuves, Gilles and Jacques, but by his reality as a human being.

Moore was barely out of braces when he made his CART debut at age 20, fresh from his high school senior prom. He was everybody's friendly little brother. When he was only 17, Greg had to get a special licence to compete in the Indy Lights feeder series because he was a year shy of the required age to compete.

Seven years ago, Roger Bailey, president and CEO of Indy Lights, remembers coming to Vancouver to meet with Ric Moore at the Ramada Renaissance. Ric was attempting to get his son placed in the series.

"I told Ric, 'Why don't we go into the bar and have a drink whilst we talk about this interest,'" Bailey said. "Of course, Greg was not old enough to drink. I took one look at this skinny kid with wire rim glasses and I thought, 'He's the driver?' He didn't look like a racer. He didn't look like a sportsman, period. Boy, was I wrong. We found out very soon there was something special about Greg."

As a metaphor for life, motor racing is an apt one, because we really never know what the next moment holds. Wednesday, the people he was closest to mourned a young man whose stardom had nothing to do with lap times, trophies and million-dollar contracts.

Well beyond the race track, Greg Moore's was a life worth applauding.

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

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Patrick Carpentier , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Scott Pruett , Mark Blundell , Ayrton Senna , Roger Bailey , Roger Penske , Jeff Krosnoff , Greg Moore
Teams Team Penske