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 Hakkinen
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."