You could say Greg Moore raced through life with a spirit and passion that would have driven him to the front of any pack. From a young age, he was a go-kart prodigy, later a superstar driver who rocketed through all development series to the top flight of North American open-wheel racing.
The heir apparent next great Canadian racer in the fiery tradition of the Villeneuves, Gilles and Jacques, Greg was one of the most promising young drivers in the world. And for many in this province, best of all, he was ours, a bright-eyed BC boy, Maple Ridge’s favourite hometown hero.
Sadly, we never got to see how great Greg Moore would become, both as a driver and a person. He was only 24 when tragically killed in a crash during the Marlboro 500, the last race of the 1999 CART season at California Speedway in Fontana, California. People mourned his death all over the world. In just a few short years, the swath this dashing young man cut into all whom he touched had been deep, wide, and lasting.
“The lesson to be learned is that he taught us to be passionate, to love and not to waste a single day of your life,” fellow driver Jimmy Vasser said soon after Greg’s death. “Everybody knows he was one hell of a race car driver, and ten times a human being.”
A playful prankster with a Hollywood smile and a refreshing, genuine down-to-earth personality amidst a sports scene bursting of egos, attitude, and greed, he lived the fast life of celebrity without ever losing sight of the important things—family and friends, in whose company he was most comfortable. The world of a professional racecar driver flies by at 220mph, but he was always willing to halt his wild ride for moments with those that mattered most.
Born in New Westminster and raised in Maple Ridge, Greg began driving vehicles not long after he learned to walk. His first was a red Radio Flyer wagon he raced around the backyard fending off imaginary Andrettis and Sennas. He once told his mother Donna and father Ric that he didn’t want a red ‘car’, so his little red wagon was spray-painted gold. Ric, who had been a racing driver himself at the old Westwood Motorsport Park and owned a car dealership in Maple Ridge, encouraged Greg’s interest in racing. Greg began noodling around with go-karts at age six around the dealership lot. It’s said every single downspout on the lot was dented by young Greg at some point.
Greg’s talent for driving was unmistakable and by age 10 Ric signed his son up for the Westwood Karting Club. Greg was the 99th member of the club, so he chose number 99 as his racing number thereafter. At age 14, Greg won the 1989 North American Enduro Kart championship and repeated the following year as North American champion.
His rise up the developmental ladder was exactly how he raced: fast and impressive. In 1991, he was named the Esso Protec Formula Ford 1600 Rookie of the Year after finishing fourth overall in the championship standings with one victory, four second-place finishes, and two pole positions. The next year, still only 17 and racing against much older seasoned drivers, Greg won the USAC Formula 2000 West Championship and was again named rookie of the year, winning four races and earning four pole positions.
Next came Indy Lights, one step below the top rung of North American open wheel racing. Over three years, Greg would re-write the Indy Lights record book, recording 13 career victories on the circuit. Most remarkable was his 1995 season, in which he truly dominated winning ten of twelve Indy Lights races that year and taking the driver’s championship by 102 points, leading 375 out of 583 total laps, finishing every lap of every race, and setting a points record of 242—thirty more than any previous Indy Lights champion. He was the brightest prospect in the racing world and made the leap to the top level of North American racing.
With fellow Canadian Jacques Villeneuve jumping to Formula 1, Greg was moved up replace him on the Player’s Forsythe Racing team racing in 1996 on the PPG Indy Car World Series circuit. Despite some early struggles as he adapted to the higher level of competition on the demanding circuit, Greg produced some strong results and became known as one of the fastest drivers anywhere on oval tracks.
On June 1, 1997 Greg won his first CART/Indy Car race taking the checkered flag at the Miller Genuine Draft 200 at the Milwaukee Mile holding off Michael Andretti by less than a second to become at age 22 one of the youngest winners in North American open-wheel racing history. Greg won his second career CART race just seven days later in the ITT Automotive Detroit Grand Prix at The Raceway on Belle Isle. He quickly became a fan favourite, known as much for pushing his car to the limit as for his trademark red gloves that he always wore while racing. When asked why he wore red, Greg always said, “Red gloves rule.”
Yes, they most certainly did. Over his four CART/Indy Car seasons, Greg compiled five career victories, 12 podium finishes, and 33 top-10 results in 72 races. He finished seventh and fifth overall in the CART championship driver standings in 1997 and 1998 respectively. Prior to his death, his potential seemed limitless. He signed a three-year $10 million contract with the Penske racing team, a perennial championship contender. Whispers of a future jump to NASCAR or Formula 1 were also common for Greg.
Despite all the stats and numbers that display the rising greatness of Greg Moore, the mark he made can’t be truly quantified. The impact Greg had on untold numbers of people all over the world can be seen in a book given to his parents Ric and Donna containing tens of thousands of messages the Forsythe Racing Team received on their website in the days following Greg’s death. Some are personal. Some are funny. Some will bring tears to your eyes. The book was so thick it could not be bound with string or glue. The three inches of paper had to be bolted to a thick piece of steel. And even then, these written remembrances strain that sturdy metal.
Legendary BC sportswriter Jim Taylor wrote books on some of the greatest athletes to compete in Canada, including Wayne Gretzky, Rick Hansen, Igor Larionov, Bob Lenarduzzi, and in 2000 with Dan Proudfoot and Gordon Kirby a book on Greg entitled Greg Moore: A Legacy of Spirit.
“I would ask people, while writing about Rick or Igor or Gretz,” Taylor recalled. “And they would usually say something like, ‘Well, he’s great, he did this, he did that, but…’ When I asked people about Greg, he was so well-respected, there was no but.”
In 2007 with the assistance of the Moore Family, the BC Sports Hall of Fame unveiled the Greg Moore Gallery, which honours the memory of Greg through artifacts, photos, and video from his life and career, including three of the vehicles her raced so memorably: his golden Radio Flyer wagon, his 1990 Emmick Go-Kart, and the Player’s Forsythe Indy Car Greg raced to his first CART victory at Milwaukee in 1997.
One of the hundreds of photographs of Greg in the Moore Gallery stands out in particular. He’s about age six, a young blonde-haired boy wearing blue sneakers with orange laces. In his left hand he clutches a caged hockey mask, while his right hand, wearing tiny racing gloves, confidently leans against the body of a small yellow van. It was Greg’s first go-kart and he looks in his element already. He took to cars from the beginning. Within a dozen years, he was astonishing seasoned race observers with his speed and natural ability.
Somewhere out in the small towns of this province lives the next great BC athlete, as yet unknown. Maybe he or she will see this photograph of the young boy proudly leaning against his first car and think that can be me and the road to my wildest dreams starts here. That may end up being Greg’s greatest, most lasting legacy.
Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.