Motorsport is a cruel game that has left so many unfinished stories abruptly cut off before they ever really get good. Too many of them, in fact. But the fatal accident that claimed the life of Greg Moore fifteen years ago is one that leaves a profound, gaping void in the world of racing that is still felt today.
I touched on this briefly in my article written shortly after the Japanese Grand Prix and the near-fatal accident of Jules Bianchi. I never saw Greg Moore’s fatal crash. In fact, that was a year where I’d kind of lost interest in racing. As a child, I was a young kid of many aptitudes. That year, it just so happened that it was baseball and video games and professional wrestling. That year, racing had to go to the back-burner. Anyway, it turns out that I was out trick-or-treating with my mother the afternoon and evening of October 31st, 1999. The afternoon and evening in which Moore, starting his final race with Forsythe Racing after four seasons, spun his car at the exit of Turn 2 of what is now called Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, and at high speed, flipped violently and slammed into the inside-retaining wall, causing instantly fatal head and chest injuries. Greg Moore was only 24 years of age. The race continued on as if nothing had happened, even after his death was announced before half-distance. For most, including race winner Adrian Fernandez, now regrettably a winner of two races marred by the death of a fellow competitor, and newly-crowned rookie champion Juan Pablo Montoya, the news of Moore’s death was not broken to them until after the advertised 500-mile distance of the season finale at Fontana was complete.
I was lucky I wasn’t able to watch that. Instead, I decided to go out, around the neighborhood, seeing friends and neighbors as I walked around asking for candy in a silly costume. The privilege of youthful innocence. But eventually, I learned that Greg Moore had passed away. And not on SportsCenter or RPM2Night or the CNN Evening News. I was getting a haircut when I flipped through an issue of Automobile Magazine and got to a full-page spread that chronicled the year in racing in 1999. And towards the end, or at the end, a blurb appeared that kind of stunned me: “October: Racing World Loses Greg Moore.” As a kid, my first thought was that he’d just retired at the young age of 24 to do something else. Then the awful reality crept in of what that phrase actually meant. Greg Moore was gone. This was a driver I knew in the few years that I’d been watching CART, in its 1990s glory years. “That shouldn’t happen to a driver like him,” I thought.
The first racing fatality I can remember was that of Scott Brayton during practice in the 1996 Indianapolis 500. But I didn’t really know who Scott Brayton was. I didn’t know about his decade and a half as an Indycar journeyman from Boulder, Colorado, nor about the fact that he was the polesitter for that Indy 500 and the one the year before, nor about his status as the veteran face of the newly-created Indy Racing League, which I didn’t even know was a thing that existed at the time. All I knew was that he was somebody that was killed leading up to the Indianapolis 500. It was kind of sad, but it didn’t really affect me emotionally at the time. That issue of Automobile was written before the staff could do a full tribute to Moore, but with enough time to memorialize Gonzalo Rodriguez, the 27-year-old Uruguayan rookie who had dazzled the international racing world in International Formula 3000, came over to CART on a partial schedule for Penske Racing, but was then killed in a grotesque practice crash at Laguna Seca. I didn’t learn about just how talented Rodriguez was until maybe…well, sadly enough, this year, the fifteenth anniversary of his passing. So while that was also sad, it wasn’t really a huge shock.
But Greg Moore was a name and a face that I’d recognized that wasn’t there any more. And that, I believe, was the moment, in the barber shop waiting for my haircut, when I really learned about how dangerous this racing thing really is. In addition to feeling the first glancing blow of heartache that now comes to me every time a prominent racing driver is killed or gravely injured.
Moore’s death fifteen years ago today is one that is the centerpiece of a web of tragedy, avoidable circumstances, and events that took place after his death that, if he had not died, would have drastically altered the entire landscape of motorsport as we know it today, from October 31st, 1999 all the way to October 31st, 2014. Continue reading “Fifteen Years after Fontana”