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Wheels of Fortune
Ed Hinton
November 08, 1999
Greg Moore's sudden death won't change the way open-wheel racers think
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November 08, 1999

Wheels Of Fortune

Greg Moore's sudden death won't change the way open-wheel racers think

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New CART champion Juan Pablo Montoya and Marlboro 500 winner Adrian Fernandez wept instead of celebrating on Sunday, after they were told at race's end that their friend and fellow driver, the popular and fun-loving Canadian Greg Moore, had been killed in a hideous crash 10 laps into the event. , There were no victory ceremonies at California Speedway in Fontana, only a prayer service under the U.S., California and CART flags, which flew at half-mast.

Moore (right), just 24 but already a five-time winner on the CART tour, almost didn't start the race. On Saturday in the track's paddock area the scooter he was riding was struck by a car whose driver said she was blinded by the sun. With a slight fracture of his right forefinger, minor cuts and a bruised right hip, Moore sat out qualifying for the 500. That's why he started at the back of the grid, in the 27th position.

That spot may have made his car subject to severe turbulence from vehicles moving ahead of him at more than 230 mph. Last season CART changed its rules for races on high-speed ovals such as the one at California Speedway, drastically reducing aerodynamic downforce on the cars. That slowed the cars through turns but hindered driver control. Six laps before Moore's accident Richie Hearn, who'd started 21st, spun in the same area where Moore would crash. Hearn, who blamed turbulence from other cars for his mishap, skated harmlessly to a stop.

When Moore lost control at more than 220 mph, his pale blue number 99 Reynard-Mercedes became airborne and sailed sideways until it smashed cockpit-first into a concrete retaining wall, with Moore's helmet apparently striking the concrete. The car disintegrated, engine and wheels separating from the driver's compartment—the so-called survival tub—which slammed the ground several times and landed upside down. Moore was flown to Loma Linda University Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead of massive head and internal injuries.

Montoya, 24, finished fourth in the 500 to tie Scotland's Dario Franchitti in CART points at 212 and won the CART championship in his rookie year by virtue of his seven victories this season to Franchitti's three. Meanwhile, in Formula One, Mika H�kkinen earned his second straight world title with a victory in Sunday's Grand Prix of Japan—a testament to the steel nerves that kept him driving his McLaren-Mercedes after a 1995 crash that put him in a coma.

How can drivers keep racing in the wake of disasters like Moore's crash? Colombia's Roberto Guerrero was asked such a question a few years back. "It happens," Guerrero said of the prospect of crashing, "but you never think it will happen to you." Reminded that he had nearly died from brain injuries suffered in a crash at Indianapolis in '87, Guerrero smiled and amended his statement: "It will never happen to me again."