Fifteen years ago today, Greg Moore perished in a brutal crash during the CART Indy car season finale. He was just 24. Yesterday, Robin Miller highlighted Greg’s blazing talent and magnetic personality through the memories of friends and colleagues. Today, IndyCar ace James Hinchcliffe offers a personal appreciation of his boyhood hero.
I was nine years old when I got my first go-kart. It was December, 1995. A bit cruel, giving a nine-year-old a go kart in December when you live in Canada, but I didn’t care. Even though I wouldn’t be able to drive it for the first time until the spring, I spent hours sitting in it in my garage, making engine noises and imagining what it would be like to drive. I wanted to race. I wanted to win. Just like my racing heroes.
By this age, I was already a fully-fledged racing fanatic. My dad and I would get up at 7 a.m. on Sundays to watch the Formula 1 races. We’d do chores the rest of the morning; have lunch, then settle in for the Indy car races in the afternoon. Those were my Sundays as a kid, and I loved them.
1995 was a particularly good year to be a Canadian open-wheel racing fan. Our boy Jacques Villeneuve had won the Indy 500 and CART Indy car championship that year. But he was leaving, off to F1, to pick up where his father left off. I was excited that now we’d have a Canadian to cheer for in F1 and in Indy car. But a big question remained; who would drive that beautiful blue and white car that I’d grown used to seeing up front?
Enter Greg Moore. The bright-eyed youngster from British Columbia, fresh off his record-breaking season in Indy Lights, had gotten the nod. Perfect. Another fast Canadian. That should make the transition very easy, I thought.
In the spring of 1996 I made my racing debut. At the same time, Greg made his Indy car debut. Now, I don’t mind admitting that he was much more prepared for his year than I was mine, but still, I was living my dream and getting to race, just like my heroes.
Greg was instantly one of my favorites, but it didn’t take long for him to demote the rest and clearly take ownership of the number one spot in this race fan’s mind. He was quick, exciting to watch, drove the prettiest car I’d ever seen, had a cool helmet (very important to a nine-year-old karter!) and his interviews were the best. He was always smiling and came across to me like a big kid who just couldn’t believe he got to drive racecars for a living and loved and appreciated every minute of it. Knowing the amount of work and sacrifice it took to go racing, it was exactly how I felt about getting to race karts, and having that feeling in common really solidified why I was such a big Greg fan.
I watched as he won his first race in Milwaukee in ’97, beating none other than Michael Andretti to the line. I’ll never forget that he came off Turn 4 and had his fist in the air way before the checkered flag (a big no-no, my dad told me). It was so cool to watch! I remember the Pac West cars getting it half a lap wrong on fuel and Greg going from third to first on the last lap a week later in Detroit. But my favorite race of Greg’s, by far, was the U.S. 500 in 1998.
Back then they were racing with the Hanford Device, which made the racing bonkers. And by that I mean awesome for us to watch! It came down to a late restart, Greg was fourth, and the two Ganassi cars with Vasser and Zanardi were leading the way. The last few laps were a crazy, three-way back-and-forth battle for the win. It was a 230mph game of chess. Greg won the race and I remember being in awe of how well he had planned, timed and executed the pass that sealed the win. I was screaming at my TV willing him on. It was on that day that I knew Greg Moore was going to be one of the greatest racing drivers that had ever lived.
At the race in Toronto in 1999, the coolest thing happened. I got to meet Greg Moore. And I didn’t just get his autograph (I’d done that before) but genuinely got to meet him. My dad had found and given me the steering wheel from the F1600 car that Greg had raced in the early ’90s. A friend of my dad’s had bought the car off the Moore family when Greg moved up to F2000 and he had replaced the wheel before he started racing the car. It was sitting in a box in his garage. My dad gave it to me, told me where it had come from and who it had belonged to, and I knew that I had to get this wheel, Greg’s wheel, signed by him that year.
I brought the wheel to the race and stood outside the Player’s Forsythe trailer for over three hours waiting to get him to sign it. At one stage, Greg came out and signed some autographs to my left. The next time he came out, it was some to my right. But I wasn’t leaving until that wheel was signed. My family did stints standing with me, because no one wanted to endure the whole adventure. During my sister’s stint, we stood behind the barriers, watching the crew guys pull the car apart. There was one other couple standing there, and the rest of the paddock was empty of fans.
After a while like this, one of the mechanics came over and said that he’d noticed we’d been standing there a while and asked if there was anything he could help us with. We explained the story and showed him the wheel. He thought it was such a cool story and told us to wait there and he’d go get Greg. Sure enough, Greg comes out and spends 10 minutes chatting to my sister and me. He loved the wheel, signed it, and couldn’t have been nicer. We talked racing, karting, and Canada. It was the best. I was walking on air the rest of the day.
If he had come out and seen us when the masses were standing there, there is no way we would have got that amount of time with him. The way it worked out was absolutely perfect. I’d have waited 30 hours for that. I wish so badly that I remembered the mechanic that grabbed Greg for us. The irony is there’s a damn good chance that I’ve worked with him in my years in the IndyCar paddock. I’ll never know for sure, but I’ll be eternally grateful, because I never would’ve gotten that opportunity again.
They say you shouldn’t meet your heroes – that they rarely live up to your expectations. I call bulls–t. I met mine and he was an absolute legend. If your hero is a guy that has an insane fastball, or can sink a 38-yard putt, or acted the hell out of your favorite movie (but he is actually a huge jerk), you have two options. You either accept that he is a jerk or you find a new hero. Greg was my hero specifically because I met him, because he was a badass racing driver, and a really good guy. To me, that’s what makes a hero. Being good at nailing three pointers doesn’t give you carte blanche to be an ass. That’s what set Greg apart in my mind. That’s why I wanted to grow up to be just like Greg.
I’ll never forget Halloween in 1999 for all the wrong reasons. I had watched the start of the race but had to leave shortly after to go to my friend’s house for trick-or-treating. I saw the accident and was bummed Greg was out of the race, but that’s about as far as I had taken it in my mind. I was rushing out the door. There was candy begging to be relieved from the neighbors’ ample supplies. I was at my friend’s house getting ready when the phone rang. His mom answered and tells me it’s for me. It was a bit weird, but didn’t think much of it. I grabbed the phone and can hear my mom on the other end crying. At the same moment, I happened to be facing the TV.
It was on a sports channel and as I stood, listening to my mother try and speak, I saw the rolling ticker at the bottom of the screen saying that Canadian driver Greg Moore had been killed at the season finale in Fontana. Right away, I knew why mom had called and why she was upset.
The rest of the night pretty much sucked, but I internalized everything I was thinking and feeling for my friend’s sake. When I got home, I couldn’t help but cry. Even at 12 years old, I knew it was a bit strange to cry for someone that you’d met once for 10 minutes. But that again made me realize how special Greg truly was. To have that kind of impact on a kid – on anyone – spoke volumes about his character and the way he attracted people to him. His attitude was contagious and it was so hard to process that it wouldn’t be around anymore.
My parents struggled with letting me continue to race for a while after that, but ultimately they left the decision up to me. It’s reason number 4,852,901 my parents are amazing.
As my career progressed and I finally made it into IndyCar, I started meeting a lot of people who had worked with, or raced against Greg. A lot of the mechanics on my car the last three years had worked for Forsythe during that time. I became friends with Greg’s close friends Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan and Max Papis. I got to hear stories. I’ve spoken with his dad and met his brother. I got to know Greg better through them.
One of my favorite memories was after the Brazil IndyCar race one year. The race was done and we had hours to waste before the flight to get us all home. I sat in the bar at the hotel with Dario, TK, Scott Dixon, Jimmy Vasser and Oriol Servia – so many guys that I look up to and respect, and I sat silent for almost three hours (shocking, I know) just listening to all the stories of back in the day, with many featuring Greg.
All of these are the reasons why Greg was, and continues to be, my racing hero. I loved what he represented and what he stood for. To this day I wear red gloves (BELOW), because that’s what superheroes like Greg did and because they rule. The blue and yellow checkers on my helmet are inspired by Greg’s helmet design.
They are subtle ways for me to pay tribute to him as he was the guy who helped motivate and mold me into the driver and person I am today. And for that, Greg, I thank you.