Remembering Greg Moore

In 1996, I had the opportunity to cover Greg Moore’s first public appearance in an IndyCar, the pinnacle of open-wheel motorsports in North America. I first covered Moore in 1993, when his underfunded family-owned team competed in Indy Lights, the feeder series to the powerful 750 HP big cars; I was in Portland when Moore’s team had to borrow tires from another team to get Greg back in the race. By the time the checkered flag dropped, he had clawed his way back to third.

For the next two seasons we caught up with him regularly in Portland and at the Vancouver Indy. It was apparent he was a special racer with huge potential to make a major mark in his sport.

So when the promoters of the Vancouver race offered a package deal to local media to travel to Homestead, Florida to cover IndyCar “Spring Training,” I lobbied my editor at The Maple Ridge News that we should be there.

This is the story I brought back:

The fastest man from Maple Ridge

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Greg Moore’s Reynard speeds around the banked oval at Homestead, Florida during IndyCar Spring Training.

It’s the second day of Greg Moore’s first IndyCar season, but he’s not going anywhere.

While Paul Tracy, Raul Boesel and Bryan Herta are lapping the 1.51-mile oval track in Homestead, Florida, at more than 190 miles an hour, the fasted man from Maple Ridge is slumped in a chair in front of his team’s garage, his head buried in the collar of a jacket to ward off the unseasonable cold. Something in his Player’s Reynard electrical system is acting up and the team of technicians and mechanics swarming over the car can’t seem to find the problem. The tension is palpable.

But this is what “Spring Training” week at the brand new Homestead Motorsports Complex in the middle of a flat Florida swamp is all about. Most of the world’s fastest drivers are here to shake down their new cars, test new equipment, work out the bugs and crank up the hype machine for the upcoming ’96 PPG IndyCar World Series that begins the first week of March at this very same track.

It’s an especially big week for Moore.

He’s only had six days of seat time in the car he’ll be racing this season. As the new kid on the block, it’s a chance for him to earn some early credibility with the other drivers and with fans. At 20 years-old he’s the youngest driver on the circuit, and he’s the second-youngest by only a month to Al Unser Jr. to ever climb into an Indy racing car.

“It’s nothing new for me to be the kid, because I’ve always been the kid,” says Moore.

Indeed, in Formula 1600 he was the youngest driver by four years. In Indy Lights he was younger than his competitors by six years.

Moore’s ride to car racing’s big league has been almost as fast as some of the cars he drives: a go-kart champion in 1990; rookie-of-the-year in Formula 1600 in 1991; a Formula 2000 champion in 1992; racing Indy Lights before he graduated high school in 1993, breaking all the series’ records and winning the championship in 1995. Climbing into the cockpit of a 750-horsepower Indy car is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

“It was pretty hard to imagine we’d ever get to this day,” says Moore’s dad, Ric, who’s also his manager.

It’s been a lot of work. Since being named the driver for the Player/Forsythe Racing team last November, Moore has spent 30 days testing at tracks in Florida, Arizona and California. He had a couple of days of media training in Montreal to prepare for his higher profile. And there’s been an intense conditioning program to get him ready for the rigours of wrestling the powerful Indy car around a track for two or three hours.

“The physical preparation is a little more intense for IndyCar,” says Moore.

That includes a lot of cardio work, training in the gym, on the stair master, rowing, lifting weights, riding his bike.

Moore will also have to prepare himself mentally for longer races – 200 to 500 miles instead of the 75-mile sprints he raced in Indy Lights.

“He’ll have to be 100 per cent focused,” says Ric.

Moore says he’s just honing the intensity he already possesses every race weekend. “I don’t really think I can change that much.”

Moore’s focus is almost legendary on pit row. When his blue, white and gold Reynard sputters and grunts only a few laps into the second day of testing at Homestead, Moore pulls into pit lane with a frustrated twitch.

Technicians remove the carbon fiber rear engine cowling and side pods to try to diagnose the problem. Moore flips up his helmet’s visor and exchanges a few curt hand signals with his chief mechanic, Chris Lovely. But mostly he just stares straight ahead, the fire to be on the track instead of keeping the revs up in the pits burning from his eyes.

When the signal comes to cut the engine, Moore climbs from the car and removes his helmet brusquely. He looks over the shoulder of chief engineer Steve Challis at a clipboard crowded with numbers. Nobody says much.

As the car is pushed behind the wall and back to the garage, Moore strides down pit lane alone. It takes most of the day before technicians pin down the problem. A spare part is salvaged from the back-up car and phone calls are made to the team’s headquarters in Indianapolis to get more parts shipped down overnight.

Moore’s race-ready intensity cools a little quicker. For a while he just stews in the plastic chair. He moves to the pit wall when one of his heroes, Paul Tracy, blows up his engine in a cloud of white smoke as he exits turn four.

By early afternoon Moore is loose and smiling again.

One of the consequences of his ascent to the big leagues is the added demands on his time, infringements on his concentration. Media from across North America are anxious to get a clip from the hot new talent of IndyCar racing.

Moore handles each interview with aplomb. He mugs for the camera as his mic is hooked up. He’s careful to mention his sponsors, He smiles politely as the same questions are asked again and again.

“There’s a little more show involved,” says Moore. “Before I didn’t have sponsors, so I didn’t have to worry about any of that.”

Everything is bigger now for Moore. This season he’ll compete in 16 races in four countries. Each race will be seen by an average 75 million TV viewers in 150 countries.
Moore says he’s won’t be along just for the ride; his goal is to win rookie-of-the-year, finish in the top ten point, win a race.

“I think the Player’s team is quite capable of it,” says Moore. “I think it could be Vancouver’s first IndyCar win for a Vancouver driver.”

That’s not just youthful bravado, says Challis who’s worked with Moore for six years. “He has a good work ethic and he’s very smart. He has the potential to be one of the best drivers in the world.”

The stubborn electrical glitch apparently solved, Moore’s car is rolled back out to pit lane late in the afternoon, in time for the day’s final practice session. After an IndyCar official gives the signal to open the track, Moore pops the clutch and thunders into the long Florida sunset.

The Reynard holds together. Moore’s speed increases each time around the banked oval. On the second-last lap of the day, with the sun dipped below the track wall, Moore clocks 192.196 mph. It’s the second-fastest lap of the day.

The next day, Moore breaks 194 mph, the third fastest lap for the whole week.

“Everything goes by a lot quicker now,” says Moore’s dad, Ric.

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Losing stories, losing history

Norm Friesen cut hair in New Westminster for 40 years. He likely won’t write a memoir, nor will Hollywood turn his life into a biopic. But the barber who also composed gospel music at the old piano in his one-chair shop on Mackenzie Street is just the kind of character who gives a community its soul and attracts the attention of a journalist looking for an interesting story.

A couple of years after I told Norm’s story in the NewsLeader, in words and photos, the city block that housed his shop was destroyed by a massive fire. Norm’s planned retirement was moved up a few weeks, but he lost every memento of his career. My story and photos were the last record of his life’s work, what the inside of his shop looked like, where he played his piano, the appointment book where he jotted down customers’ names.

When the NewsLeader was in its waning days I thought of Norm often, especially in the context of our responsibility as journalists to document our communities.

But as newspapers strip their resources to the bone, or close altogether, it gets harder and harder to live up to that responsibility. Stories are left untold, photos untaken. All in the name of economy.

In days of yore, before newspapers were bought up by corporations and hedge funds, publishers took their contract as a public service seriously. The ad department extracted dollars from local businesses and in return, the community was provided a daily, or weekly, chronicle of all the important, and not-so-important, news and information.

In the halcyon days of the early 1990s, it was heresy to let a community event go uncovered, to mute the volume on the police scanner. If important events conflicted, shifts were juggled, overtime authorized or freelancers hired to ensure readers wouldn’t miss a thing. And if it was a really big event, extra hands were brought in to give readers the whole story from several angles and nothing was missed. Accepting handout photos was an affront to our journalistic integrity.

But as news holes started shrinking and budgets tightened, that commitment to “be there” waned. Overtime was no longer authorized to put photographers at opposite baselines for the BC High School Basketball Championship or bring in additional help to cover all candidates on election night. More and more events went unreported; it someone provided a free handout photo, no matter the quality or source, that would suffice to at least create the illusion of coverage.

As newsrooms got even smaller, editors and reporters more harried, coverage was further compromised. Whole days were left unstaffed. The police scanners went unheeded because a call meant putting aside the 13 other things that needed to get done. Handout photos and press releases started landing on the front page, that most hallowed ground for every journalist.

The implications of this go far beyond the diminished product and overworked, dispirited journalists. They will be felt for generations to come.

Because for all their current faults, newspapers are still the first record of a community’s history. They’re the in-the-moment chronicle of events, issues and characters of a community. As depleted newsrooms pass over stories that would be too labour-intensive, time-consuming or inconvenient to cover, holes appear in that history.

Last week, the Vancouver Sun and Province laid off 54 people; 29 of them are journalists. Two are  librarians; they’re the caretakers of the papers’ archives. With them gone, who takes on that responsibility? Who will gather all the stories and photos and ensure they’re preserved and archived so future generations can access them, learn a little about the community’s evolution?

Anyone who’s ever tried to find something in an electronic database knows their fallibility. The database is only as good as the data that is put into it, and a vague or incorrect search term might yield nothing.

Without champions to ensure their integrity and continuity, it’s easy to let an archive slip, allow information to disappear forever, create gaps in a community’s story.

When the NewsLeader closed, the money guys who made that decision paid no mind to our archive of 26 years of community stories and photos. The old bound copies of the paper were destined for the garbage bin, as were the binders of cd’s and dvd’s containing our digital photo archive. The electronic archive, our websites, was simply turned off. Eventually some stories did reappear on the server of the surviving papers, but they’re sporadic; vast swaths of history have just disappeared.

Only a determined effort by one of our reporters saved our archive; the bound copies and digital photos were donated to the Burnaby and New Westminster archives, where they’ll be sorted and catalogued, a huge project because we didn’t have librarians to keep them well organized.

A Vancouver councilor, Geoff Meggs, has launched a similar initiative to preserve the archives of the Sun and Province. He recognizes that a company that jettisons the keepers of its archive has no commitment to protect the community’s “history on the run,” has no interest in keeping its part of the contract with the community it’s supposed to “serve.”

To see an example of the importance of a newspaper’s archives in action, check out the exhibition Vancouver in the Seventies, at the Museum of Vancouver until July 16; it’s comprised of 400 photos from the Vancouver Sun’s archive. Most of those images were routine assignments, likely forgotten by the photographer as soon as they handed their prints to an editor; but 40 years later they’re a remarkable record of the city’s coming of age. As the museum’s blurb says, “They capture the beauty of everyday events and chronicle the drama of pivotal moments that continue to shape the city.” You have to wonder if they’d be able to mount a similar exhibition in 2047 of Vancouver in the Twenty-tens.

All steamed up

Steinbier is German for stone beer. It’s a traditional method of brewing beer in Bavaria and parts of Scandinavia that uses super-heated granite stones to boil the wort.

The quick caramelization when the rocks are dropped into wort, or the wort poured over the hot rocks, creates a smokey, slightly sweet and malty beer.

German brewmaster Sebastian Sauer, of Freigeist Bierkultur in Cologne, recently visited Steel & Oak Brewing Co. in New Westminster, to share this old-world brewing technique.

 

Closing newspapers means losing community connections

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This article originally appeared in Tenth to the Fraser, a community blog in New Westminster where I am a contributing writer and photographer

My first connection to New Westminster was the local newspaper.

I worked for it.

When the 1990 recession punted me from my job in Ontario, I headed west where, I was assured, there was plenty of opportunity in the burgeoning community newspapers around the Lower Mainland.

I’d been to Vancouver, for Expo 86, and I knew of the senior lacrosse teams from New Westminster and Coquitlam, who perennially battled for the Mann Cup against the Brooklin Redmen, one of the teams I covered while working at a paper in nearby Oshawa.
But I really had no concept of what a New Westminster, or a Burnaby or a Richmond or a Port Moody was.

So when one of my first assignments with the Metrovalley group of papers sent me to New West to shoot a story about backyard trampolining, I spent a little time exploring. I was immediately enchanted by the old homes and leafy streets of Queen’s Park, the bustling uptown where a giant hole would become a new urban mall, the waterfront. I had a good feeling about this burgh.

Between subsequent assignments in New West, I drove around looking for vacancy signs in front of apartment buildings. I scanned the classifieds for rentals.

To learn a little more about what made New West tick, what the community offered, I read the stories written by my colleagues. And, of course, I covered some of them myself. I quickly learned about the good parts of town, the areas to avoid.

A couple weeks later, I paid a deposit on a one-bedroom apartment in a little walk-up on the edge of Queen’s Park. I stayed there 18 years before moving to the Quay.

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Raymond Marsolais reminisces about 42 years running his own barber shop in Sapperton.

The local newspaper introduces readers to characters who give a community character, like Ray Marsolais, who cut hair in Sapperton for 42 years.

In October, the New West NewsLeader closed, another casualty in the malaise that is gutting newsrooms and shuttering papers across North America. In fact about 30 newspapers have closed in British Columbia since 2010, according to a running count being kept by a web producer at Global News. More are likely imminent.

The media landscape is shifting.

The consolidation and closure of newspapers used to be the subject for government commissions. Now they’re greeted by shrugged shoulders. And then everyone turns back to their Facebook feed on their smartphone.

Much of the newspaper industry’s current pain is self-inflicted. Ownership got complacent on fat profit margins, on being the only game in town. They didn’t want to, or were incapable of, coming to terms with the digital revolution, with Google and Craigslist and eBay.

Nobody’s holding tag days for closed newspapers. (Although in Guelph loyal subscribers of the city’s daily, The Mercury, did gather to hug the paper’s building when its closure was announced) Some say our demise is just part of the evolution of how we consume information; nobody wants to read yesterday’s news printed on dead trees anymore when the instant gratification of a Twitter feed is a few finger taps away.
But we should worry.

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Western Forest Products’ final message to workers at its Queensborough mill, as they leave the mill for the last time.

The local newspaper is a living archive that chronicles a community’s evolution as its happening, like the closure of lumber mills and the loss of industrial employers in Queensborough.

Newspapers, for all their diminished resources and cumbersome delivery model are still the primary source for much of the information we consume about our community. Day in, day out, week in, week out, they do the grunt work of covering local government and calling the cop shop. They’re our eyes and ears when we can’t be everywhere. A good newspaper not only tells the community it covers what is going on but also provides context; why should we care? who will be affected? Its pages are a barometer of what’s important to a community.

A newspaper reflects the elements of community we value, the events that bring us together, how we respond when the going gets tough. It celebrates a community’s heroes and everyday champions. It introduces us to the characters who give character to a community. It gives voice to those who might not otherwise be heard.

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In 24.5 years, I covered virtually every community event in New Westminster. Many of them multiple times.

The local newspaper takes readers into places in their own community they might not otherwise know about, like a private train collection that is housed in a Braid Street warehouse and includes the restored locomotive of a passenger train that was involved in a tragic collision in Hinton, Alberta.

A newspaper can bring us into parts of the community we might not see. Its stories connect us to our neighbours down the street or on the other side of town.
An illuminating quote, a lovely photo can make us smile. A provocative editorial can spark conversation.

Even the ads are a snapshot of a community’s economic vitality. Or lack of it.

A community’s newspaper is its organic, real-time story. Who prints out and saves articles from a website? But clippings of stories and photos from the newspaper are likely taped and pinned to refrigerators and bulletin boards. They’re pasted into scrapbooks. Sometimes they’re sent to grandma.

To read a newspaper regularly is to experience a community’s evolution as it’s happening, its changing landscape, economy, identity.

A newspaper is our connection to the community in which we live, work, play. It gives the community a dimension beyond just the people we interact with, the places we frequent. It’s one we can count on, moreso than a fickle Twitter hashtag or gossipy Facebook group.
So next time we yawn at the news another community has lost its newspaper, we must consider what else is being lost beyond jobs and one less bundle to carry out for recycling.

This is my story

I am a storyteller.

My storytelling is rooted in community journalism.

On any given day I could be interviewing a scientist trying to create fusion in a suburban warehouse, deciphering a report to city council on transportation issues, photographing a portrait of a local author, shooting video at an annual festival.

Every day I’m challenged to wrap my head around complex issues, personal passions, new ideas; I turn them into compelling narrative that engages a wide audience.

I’m driven by curiosity and creativity. I’m an independent self-starter who thrives in a team environment. I rise to the challenges presented and then push beyond them. I roll with technology but I’m firmly grounded in the most important asset of storytelling, connecting with the audience.