20 Years On, Greg Moore's Legacy Endures Through Red Gloves
Though he left us on October 31, 1999, Moore’s spirit lives on in a generation of Canadian racers.
Portland International Raceway, 1998.
Greg Moore is on a roll. He’s approximately halfway through his third season in the CART FedEx Championship Series, and the phenom from Maple Ridge, B.C., has already claimed his third career victory in Brazil, scored three pole position starts, and finished within the top 10 in every race but one.
Moore arrives in Portland second in championship points. But after a disappointing qualifying session, he starts this race in 14th, well behind points leader Alex Zanardi. As any racer would, if he sees a window of opportunity on the start, he’s determined to take it.
The green flag falls, and the field fans out across the track approaching turn 1. Moore finds a gap and takes a deep swing to the inside, but as a result he enters the first corner far too hot. He jumps a curb and takes out two other cars before coming to a stop in the middle of the racing line, blocking the path of two more.
It’s perhaps the only example in Moore’s professional racing career of him genuinely losing his head.
In this situation, some drivers would become defensive; others would simply refuse to talk.
But when a microphone is inevitably shoved in front of Moore? He fully, completely owns it.
“(It was) a mistake on my part, misjudging how slow the start would be,” Moore says on international television at the time. “I feel bad for Christian (Fittipaldi) – he was going to have a good race – and for Paul (Tracy). My mistake.”
Many memories will be shared as the world honours Moore on the 20th anniversary of his death on October 31, 1999. While it was a singular moment that stole him away at just 24 years of age – a devastating 10th-lap crash in that year’s season finale, at the racetrack known today as Auto Club Speedway – there are millions more moments that define the man he was, from his immense talent and zeal for driving to his devotion to his family and many friends, not to mention his ineffaceable smile.
These aspects of Moore are all evident to the young Canadians who have followed in his footsteps to become this country’s next generation of racing stars. But it’s the times like Portland, demonstrative of Moore’s innate ability to be as gracious in adversity as he was in victory, that they find themselves looking back on as an example.
“I don’t know if it’s one of those situations where that was how I was raised and so I was drawn to him because of it, or if I was genuinely moulded by what I saw in my hero,” says the winningest active Canadian IndyCar driver, James Hinchcliffe. “But I remember thinking, ‘that’s what I want to be like,’ being able to deal with both victory and defeat with the same grace and the same class that Greg did.
“(It’s) something I remember from way earlier an age than you should be thinking about that kind of thing.”
The degree to which Moore influenced Hinchcliffe’s life and career is well-documented. Moore drove a Van Diemen Formula Ford to Canadian Rookie of the Year honours in 1991, and Hinchcliffe’s father purchased that car. As a result, eight years later the younger Hinchcliffe, who was 12 at the time, spent three hours waiting at Moore’s trailer in the Toronto paddock to have him autograph its steering wheel. When Hinchcliffe took his qualifying run for the Indianapolis 500 13 years later, he did so with a pair of Moore’s red racing gloves tucked into his fire suit.
“He was always on,” Hinchcliffe remembers of Moore. “He was always composed. He always said the right things. He conducted himself well on track, and he conducted himself incredibly off it. And it made a huge impact on me.”
Dan Proudfoot, who was the motorsport reporter for the Toronto Sun during Moore’s career and co-wrote the book released in 2000 titled Greg Moore: A Legacy of Spirit, relates this aspect of Moore’s personality to his very close relationship with his father and manager, Ric Moore.
“Greg was very well-schooled by his father,” says Proudfoot. “I knew Ric quite well because we would talk about being fathers. Ric would explain … how he wanted Greg to act, what he should keep in mind at all times.
“I remember at press conferences Greg would always be very mature for his years. At the time, he talked about how much money he owed his father and how the deal was he would repay that money. It was a business relationship. At the same time, though, Ric was a racer at heart himself having built a Can-Am car. It was in the garage when Greg was tiny.
“There’s no question in my mind that, to some degree, Greg was Ric at the same time as he was Greg. The fact that they spent so much time talking to each other about everything to do with racing was really a big part, I think, of explaining why Greg was so much wiser than most.”
In fact, Moore’s maturity and positive outlook through adversity can easily cloud that he was so hard done by through the last year and a half of his career. The Mercedes-Benz-badged Ilmor engine used by his Player’s Forsythe Racing team was uncompetitive relative to its Honda counterpart on road and street circuits, and parts reliability became an ongoing issue.
“All was not fine in ’99,” Proudfoot says, playing on the phrase ‘Fine in ‘99’ that became a mantra in the Forsythe garage as things started to go south in the latter half of 1998. “He had to get through all that. Paul (Tracy, a fellow Canadian Indy car racer) would ridicule (his) Penske car if something was wrong with it. That was just not professional in the Moores’ world. He never seemed to crack that way.”
And yet, as affable as he was, those who knew Moore well recount stories of his brief moments of irreverence, the fireworks he’d let slip when he thought no one was looking, and those became all the more famous in their exceptionality. It doesn’t take intense research to find a well-known photograph of Moore expressing his displeasure toward Juan Pablo Montoya at Michigan International Raceway in 1999, through the pointed use of a single digit.
“Max Papis once yelled at me because I gave somebody the finger on track,” Hinchcliffe says. Papis was one of Moore’s fellow Indy car drivers and closest friends. Knowing that Hinchcliffe saw Moore as an icon, he voiced disapproval at feeling Hinchcliffe’s behaviour wasn’t becoming of Moore’s example.
“He sent me a screenshot from the cameras in race control and a text message that was fairly sternly worded,” Hinchcliffe recalls. “I replied with that picture of Greg, and I think I said something like, ‘Learned from the best.’ Max couldn’t argue.”
Hinchcliffe is the elder statesman of the current generation of Canadian racers, but he’s certainly not the only one influenced by Moore’s legacy.
“It was my inspiration for racing, honestly,” says 26-year-old Stefan Rzadzinski from Edmonton, Alberta, who has wide-ranging experience in open-wheel and sports car racing and competed this year in the international all-electric Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy Championship. “My earliest memory is around motorsports and watching with my dad. … In Indy car, my dad was a Paul Tracy fan, and I was a big Greg Moore fan.
“There was something naturally that drew me to him. He was positive, but I also liked that he was definitely a never-give-up kind of guy. He just seemed like, no matter what car he was given, he was always fighting to get the most out of it and could make the pass when you didn’t think it was possible.”
Scott Hargrove – a 24-year-old British Columbia native and Porsche Selected Driver who competed this year in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and has won titles in the development ranks throughout North America – says that Moore created awareness of an opportunity in motorsport in Western Canada that didn’t exist before him.
“I wasn’t very old when Greg was racing, so I didn’t really get influenced by him until later on,” Hargrove says. “Once I got into motorsport, it hit close to home. I started to really appreciate what he did and how difficult it is for a Western Canadian to make it in motorsports.”
The years march on, a long time running. Moore would have been 44 this year. He might still have been racing today, like another of his closest friends of the same age, Tony Kanaan. Or, Moore might be retired, like Dario Franchitti, the fourth member of the group of drivers and friends that, along with Moore, Papis, and Kanaan, became known as the Brat Pack.
Either way, many poets postulate that Moore would have several Indianapolis 500 wins to his name by now, given that he had something on with Team Penske for the 2000 CART season. With Moore’s unmistakeable gift shop of oval race craft and Penske being the winningest team at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the combination would have been nothing short of a force.
But even cut tragically short, Moore’s unmistakeable influence remains, and it’s imbued in a generation of Canadians that’s being watched today by children, eyes wide with wonder at their heroes.
Hinchcliffe struggles with the concept that said hero might be him.
“It’s kind of surreal,” he says. “Never in a million years would I have thought – and I still don’t know for sure – that I would ever be to some kids what Greg was to me. It was such a powerful connection. It’s a bit unnerving, in a sense, to think that might be true, but at the same time it’s incredibly humbling.
“I’ll always be the 10-year-old kid, and he’ll always be my hero. It’s hard for me to see myself in that role because to me I’m still the 10-year-old kid. But I certainly hope that if there are kids out there that have even a slight inkling of looking at me and my career in the same way I did Greg, that I do them justice the way Greg did for me.”
There’s a single thread that weaves these sentiments together, and it’s stitched through red racing gloves.
Moore, now famously, wore red gloves without fail. When Papis won his first race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2000, the very next race after Moore’s passing, he was wearing red gloves. Papis invoked Moore’s memory when he declared that “red gloves rule” on the victory podium, bringing the phrase into common parlance.
Today, Hinchcliffe, Rzadzinski, and Hargrove all wear red gloves when they compete, as do countless other Canadian racers.
For them, as they walk in Moore’s footsteps, their red gloves stand for courage, and for grace, too.
“Greg paved the way for the rest of us,” says Hargrove. “He definitely inspired a generation.”