Moore pal presses for safer circuits Iain MacIntyre, Vancouver Sun <P> Mark van Manen, Vancouver Sun / TRIBUTE: GM Place employee Steve Stenner walks past a make-shift memorial for Greg Moore at finish line area for Vancouver ...
Moore pal presses for safer circuits
Iain MacIntyre, Vancouver Sun
<P> Mark van Manen, Vancouver Sun / TRIBUTE: GM Place employee Steve Stenner walks past a make-shift memorial for Greg Moore at finish line area for Vancouver Indy.
A former driving instructor for Greg Moore says the 24-year-old Maple Ridge racer's death last Sunday could have been prevented by improvements to the track's infield.
David Empringham said in an emotional telephone interview that he will never accept the idea that Moore's death in a horrific crash at the California Speedway in Fontana, Calif., was unavoidable.
"The problem is we keep saying these accidents are freak accidents," Empringham said after returning home to Toronto from Fontana, where he spent the weekend in his job as driving coach for the Brian Stewart Racing Indy Lights team. "The quote that comes to mind was [Indy driver] Christian Fittipaldi, when he said: 'We're not supposed to be out here risking our lives.'
"That hit home with me. You look at the track and, yeah, things could have been done."
A day after Championship Auto Racing Teams' chief steward Wally Dallenbach and California Speedway president Scott Atherton defended the safety of the series and the track, Empringham said more must be done to protect drivers.
Empringham, who was Moore's driving instructor in 1990 at the Spenard David Racing School in Shannonville, Ont., and later became a teammate of Moore's within the Player's Racing organization, said CART needs to reassess its infield surfaces.
After Moore spun off the track in Fontana at the Turn 2 exit -- driver Helio Castro-Neves, who followed Moore into the turn, said the Canadian lost control after hitting a bump in the middle of the race surface -- his car bounced across a grass infield, then became airborne when it appeared to meet a paved access road that cut across the grass.
As his car turned over, exposing the cockpit, Moore's Reynard struck an exposed concrete retaining wall with terrifying velocity.
"In this incident, and it's quite common, you get on the grass and it feels like you're speeding up," Empringham said. "In this case, he hits a road slightly elevated from the grass and it launches him upside down. If that whole area is paved, from track to wall, it's a different story."
Empringham said that at Daytona International Speedway, for example, grassy areas have been replaced by pavement, giving cars a hard surface to grip after they leave the race surface. What the extra asphalt costs in aesthetics is repaid in safety, Empringham said.
He added that Formula One uses gravel pits in its run-off areas to slow cars before they hit retaining walls.
"Certainly on road circuits, with sand traps and gravel traps, what Formula One did is incredible," Empringham said. "I don't think we've achieved that in CART. Hopefully this will make a lot of people sit down and take another look at how to make these things safer."
Empringham's emotions ranged from sadness to frustration when he discussed Moore's crash.
Of Castro-Neves' account of the bump on the speedway surface, Empringham said: "All these tracks have bumps. If you go around on a street car, you wouldn't feel it. At 200 miles an hour, it's a fairly significant bump.
"You want to blame someone. At the same time, every driver thinks they're invincible. The risks are there when you do it. But it hits so hard when it's someone you spent time with, someone you grew up with in the motorsports community."
Empringham and Moore first met at the Spenard David school, where Empringham said he was blown away by the "gobs of talent" Moore possessed. He was also impressed by the closeness of Moore's relationship to his father Ric, who put his car dealership at risk to finance the start of his son's racing career.
Later, Empringham followed Moore as a driver in Player's powerhouse Indy Lights team.
"I was his first instructor when he was just a boy," Empringham said. "He came to racing school at 15. Didn't even have a driver's licence. I watched him fulfil his dreams, achieve his dreams. His dad was his companion; they were inseparable. Together they went off to conquer racing.
"He had many more years of being a hero. But he was just a kid, and he's missing out on other dreams in life, like being married and having kids. It's sad."
Empringham will attend today's private memorial in Vancouver.
Thanks to the Vancouver Sun for permission to reprint this story.