By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
This is the third 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.
Greg Moore’s persona off the track is the stuff of legend, but so was his on-track mannerisms. Specifically, what he’s searching for in a car which often goes under the radar.
A.J. Foyt Racing’s Team Director George Klotz, who worked with Moore from 1996-97, was one of Moore’s key personnel that recalled both sides of Greg’s career in CART.
Klotz described him as a brave technical driver. A key characteristic that certainly build an immense relationship with lead engineer Steve Challis.
This brotherly love relationship is what Klotz recalls when it comes to Greg, the racer.
“(Greg and Steve) were like brothers,” Klotz told Motorsports Tribune. “Steve knew how to make him happy and it was a really good team, the two of them as well. You can’t really say much about Greg without Steve being in the mix because he was an important part. Greg had a lot of respect and trust for him, which was really important.
“Steve could interpret what he was saying. Sometimes a driver would say things and it can be interpreted different ways. Greg and Steve were always on the same page it seems like. He knew exactly what he was saying.”
Well before the “Rat Pack” (consisting of Greg, Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan and Max Papis) became an inseparable bondage, Greg spend a tremendous amount of time with his crew.
Whether it’s playing a 31-card game or making a ruckus at hotels, Klotz described those off-track moments is what made Greg fun to be around.
One unforgettable night in Miami, Greg and the Forsythe team stayed at a club level hotel. That’s when Greg brought up an idea – go to a Toys-R-Us to buy Styrofoam airplanes and fly them off the 22nd floor.
What was the end results according to Klotz?
“Some of them went real far,” Klotz said. “It was only elevator setting on how well they would fly. Some would them would go straight down and crash. We go buy more, put them together and run down and do it again.”
Their mischievous effort wouldn’t just end at the Miami hotel. The chaotic adventure continued when they arrived at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the site of Greg’s fifth and final CART win in 1999.
“We bought rocket motors, stuff them to the back of that and had some break at Homestead,” Klotz described. “There’s a picture, I wish we had it, he’s in his driver’s suit with his helmet, gloves, everything.
“Lighting this rocket off and we put two setup pad ramps and tires to take off and there’s a picture of him lighting it, laying on his belly – lighting it underneath. He was just fun, maybe a little bit too much screwing around by then but you know what, we were winning so I think we can get away with it.”
When it came to business time, there was none too greater of a moment for Klotz than Greg’s maiden win at The Milwaukee Mile in 1997.
Klotz recalled their win was the most satisfying because Greg beat CART’s creme de la crème. Such Marlboro Team Penske’s Paul Tracy and Newman-Haas Racing’s Michael Andretti.
“We were going toe-to-toe against Penske and it came down to the last pit stop,” Klotz said. “I can’t remember if we were leading or we were in second, but we did a good pit stop and I think came out in the lead.
“It was so satisfying to win his first race as a driver of an Indy car. It’s an incredible feeling. You’re beating the best when you’re beating Penske, right? Everyone knows that but to do that at difficult track, it really brings more satisfaction.”
By the time Greg’s tenure at Forsythe was wrapping up due to signing with Roger Penske’s empire at the end of the 1999 season, Klotz had already transitioned into a different role as he was now Patrick Carpentier’s crew chief.
While his role at Forsythe changed, Klotz remembers that terrible tragic October 31st afternoon at Fontana like it was yesterday.
He commented that before the 250-lap contest, Greg had a massive game plan.
That plan was quickly work his way up towards the field as a broken wrist (due to being hit by a vehicle while riding his motor scooter) kept him from qualifying and had to start from the 27th position.
“I saw him in the morning, obviously he had the accident in the garage the day before when we couldn’t qualify,” Klotz said. “He hurt his wrist but was cleared to drive and remember him bouncing around pit lane telling us ‘watch how many cars I’ll pass in the first lap and the first part of the race,’ and he was just doing that.”
Moore made the most of his promise as the No. 99 Player’s Mercedes-Benz was inside the top-20 after two laps. Shortly thereafter, Richie Hearn lost control and crashed on the backstretch.
Once the caution period ended, the race resumed on the 10th lap where in that exact corner Hearn crashed, Greg perished.
Like the rest of the CART paddock and fans around the world, Klotz was shocked when he heard the news.
Klotz had a feeling what Greg was trying to do in order to prevent his car from crashing. That feeling was a flashback to Greg’s rookie season in 1996.
While running third and facing pressure from Andre Ribeiro, Greg lost control coming into the backstretch in the infamous U.S. 500 at Michigan Speedway (a race he won two years later) but kept it off the wall.
“He spun, kept his foot it and did a circle around, and kept going,” Klotz said. “I honestly believe that’s what he was trying to do at Fontana, but it hooked and went into the infield.”
20 years later, the memories remain who personally knew Greg. Klotz best described his legacy by simply describing Greg’s transition from being a fun-loving human being to a fierce competitor.
“There’s not one that stands out. Greg was always fun to be around, always easy to laugh. Once he puts on that helmet, he’s a different person,” Klotz said.
“When you got a guy as friendly as Greg was and fun to be around. Then on top of being able to know that you can win any race that you go to, especially at such a young age. The people he was racing against, it was very competitive back then and he was always a challenge for a win every weekend.”