By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
This is the second article of a four-part series focusing on the life of Greg Moore, who lost his life at Auto Club Speedway on October 31, 1999.
PREVIOUS STORIES: PART 1
Greg Moore’s timeless legacy is still fresh for those who competed with him over two decades ago and even those who idolized the Canadian that hailed from Maple Ridge, British Columbia.
Notably, fellow Canadian James Hinchcliffe, who’s easy to identify on the INDYCAR grid with his bright red gloves.
Those red gloves are synonymous to Greg because it was his personal trademark during his short but promising career in CART from 1996-99.
Hinchcliffe told Motorsports Tribune at Texas Motor Speedway in June that when he started running go-karts, he wanted to be like Greg. Therefore, red gloves became Hinchcliffe’s trademark but more importantly, a way to pay respects to his idol.
“As a Canadian, it was easy to sort of default to the Canadian guys but there were a couple of them at the time, but Greg was special,” Hinchcliffe said.
“I sort of resonated with him a little more. He was well spoken. He was sort mild manner and was very polite in interviews. Kind of quintessentially Canadian in a lot of ways. Then on the track, he was an absolute bad ass. He proved from the get-go that he had incredible talent and as a young kid, just sort of starting his career, it was easy trying to replicate that and to be taken in by that.”
Hinchcliffe’s greatest memory of Moore was waiting outside the Forsythe Racing hospitality in Toronto for three hours, hoping to interact with his racing hero.
The wait was worth it as Hinchicliffe chatted with Greg. To this day, Hinchcliffe was thankful of having that moment as it occurred three months before that ill-fated October 31st in Fontana.
“He came out at one point and signed autographs for a couple of people to the left of us and then had to go somewhere,” Hinchcliffe said. “Then came back out about an hour later and signed some autographs for the people to the right of us and then went back in.
“The fans had all dispersed, so it was pretty much me and a friend that was still standing there and one of the mechanics have noticed that we’ve been standing there for so long. He came over and asked, ‘why we were standing around?’
“We said that we’ve been dying to meet Greg. He actually went into the trailer and pulled Greg out, and stood there and chatted with my sister and I for 10 minutes. Getting that face time with the guy, especially at his home race is valuable. I know now from experience and you don’t often get that. I’m incredibly thankful that I had that opportunity because it was the last chance I had to meet him because he passed away later that year.”
Hinchcliffe was at a friend’s house when he saw Greg’s backstretch accident on Lap 10. Hours later, Hinchcliffe heard the dreaded news and was left in disbelief.
“Obviously knew it was bad, but I don’t think you really expect that,” Hinchcliffe said. “Especially, as a 12-year-old kid or whatever I was at the time. I left before the end of the race and before the announcements have been made.
“I was over at a friend’s house and his dad happened to just be watching our local sports channel back home and I see the ticker tape roll across the bottom of the screen say – Canadian Greg Moore from Maple Ridge B.C. (British Columbia) passed away today in an accident today at Fontana.
“I just remember staring at the screen kind of in disbelief for a long time, waiting for the ticker to come back around again because I didn’t believe it. It was certainly a huge shock for the whole community and a huge loss for the whole country and it was tough.”
Hinchcliffe’s parents dealt with a roadblock. They knew his passion was racing but after Greg’s death, there were concerns. However, they remained supportive of what Hinchcliffe decided to pursue going forward – keep racing or be like every other Canadian kid and play hockey.
Ultimately, “The Mayor of Hinchtown” kept pursuing his dream of being a driver and hasn’t looked back since.
“They left it up to me and they wanted me to decide whether it’s was something I still wanted to pursue,” Hinchliffe said about his decision. “I thought about it for a while and I thought if Greg was in my position, he probably wants to keep racing and that’s what I decided to do.”
Since joining the NTT IndyCar Series full-time in 2011, Hinchcliffe had the privilege of racing with the likes of Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan, two of Greg’s closest friends.
Hinchliffe said hearing stories about Greg are everlasting memories he’ll never forget, especially when he was making a name for himself in INDYCAR.
“(Dario) was a bit of a mentor to me when I first got to IndyCar and even in Indy Lights,” said Hinchcliffe. “I loved sitting around and hear all the old war stories of him and Greg. He had some cool little stories for me to hear and Dario was very much this sort of racing gentlemen and I think he and Greg had a lot in common.
“It was always cool getting to say that I’ve raced against some of his best friends. Same thing with Tony, we train at the same gym and see each other a lot around town and around the racetrack. It’s always cool hearing the old stories and if things had been different, I would’ve gotten the chance to race against him. He’s still very unique and very special.”
Looking back at Greg’s legacy, Hinchcliffe said it’s easy to recognize the accomplishments, such as Greg’s five CART victories and what he could’ve done at Team Penske, but those who know the full story remember the impact left behind.
“It’s easy to acknowledge that he was just scratching the surface of his accomplishments. When you look at the number of races he did and wins he had,” Hinchcliffe said. “Yeah fine, it might not set the world on fire if you don’t know the backstory, but I think everyone that knows the story knows that he was poised to put himself on the map as one of the greatest Indy car drivers of all-time.
“Even though he never really got that opportunity, those that knew him, and his story still look at him that way.”