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
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.