One of the drawbacks of motor-racing is its dangers. Even at the very pinnacle, accidents can happen – whether they be through driver error or mechanical fault.
Some crashes are large, some are minor; but thanks to many developments in car and circuit safety over the years, drivers generally walk away fairly unscathed.
The days of at least one or more fatalities or serious injuries are (for the most part) long gone – ironically enough, this year would seem to be the exception to that rule (see Henry Surtees and Felipe Massa).
However, every so often, there is an accident that is so devastatingly huge that it can leave a chill down your spine. Examples that stand out would be Alex Zanardi (CART, Lausitzring, 2001), Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna (F1, Imola, 1994) and Jeff Krosnoff (CART, Toronto, 1996)
However, no accident has turned my stomach quite like the one suffered by Canadian CART driver Greg Moore at Fontana Motor Speedway on October 31st, 1999.
It seems so difficult to believe that it is ten years since Moore’s death. There had been an exciting lead-up to the race as it was the Championship decider between Juan-Pablo Montoya and Dario Franchitti.
Earlier that day, Mika Hakkinen had just won his second Formula 1 World Championship and I was desperately excited to see the climax of what had been a great year of racing. The US500 would be the final top-tier race of the year and what better setting than California?
For those that have seen Moore’s accident, it can be rather difficult to explain (and not nice to visualise). To put it simply, Moore over-steered off of turn 2 and fell into a fast slide; his car was flipped up into the air by high level grass and the top of the machine smashed against the inner concrete barriers.
Following several sickening barrel-rolls there was nothing left of the car and no life in the cockpit.
As is well documented, Moore had suffered a separate accident the previous day – only this one was in the paddock on a motor-scooter. Although he had broken a finger, he was administered with painkillers and cleared to race the following day.
Whatever one says about his crash, it is difficult to describe the exact feeling when you witness something so horrific and brutal.
I vaguely recall a deep emptiness at the bottom of my stomach and a feeling that I really wanted to be sick. From the severity of the incident, it was fairly clear that no good was going to come of this.
Moore had something of a meteoric rise through the junior ranks of USAC and IndyLights and eventually reached the CART World Series with the Forsythe Racing team at the tender age of 20 and it was not long before he was making his mark on the series by picking up a number of podiums during his début year.
He didn’t have to wait too long for his first victory though as Moore triumphed at the Milwaukee Mile in 1997 just ahead of Michael Andretti and followed that up with – admittedly – a lucky win at Detroit a week later when the PacWest duo of Mauricio Gugelmin and Mark Blundell ran out of fuel on the final lap.
Wins didn’t come easily though for the Forsythe team over the next couple of yeas as Moore only picked up three more wins during the 1998 and ’99 seasons, but his speed and enthusiasm could not be questioned and it was these factors that brought him to the attention of US Racing giant, Roger Penske.
Just prior to his fatal accident, Moore had announced that he had signed to Penske Racing from 2000 onwards – a move that would surely have made him as a top-level driver. Penske has had a habit of taking fast, but inconsistent drivers and turning them into very quick, consistent runners; the kind of stability that Moore lacked on occasion.
He was also just one of an exciting generation of drivers that burst through to CART in the mid to late-90’s that are still successful in the IRL series today – namely Dario Franchitti, Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan; others from that group that are not active right now include Paul Tracy, Alex Tagliani, Orial Servia and Patrick Carpentier.
One of things that I always admired about Greg Moore was his demeanour. He projected a character that was calm, charming and genuinely likeable and lacked the arrogance and aloofness that is often associated with top-level athletes.
Often I have thought it pointless and silly to predict the outcome past events had circumstances been different; however I am one of many that feel Moore had the potential to be Indy 500 winner as well as CART / IRL Champion at some stage.
Moore was only 24-years-old at the time of his death and is still sorely missed by all – he surely would now still be at the top of his game and could well have been one of the greats.
(Greg Moore, 1975 – 1999)