Remembering Greg Moore: Champ Car’s Brat Pack having the time of their lives
What happens when you let four kids – mostly led by Greg Moore – who are racing drivers, travel the world and become firm friends? Meet Champ Car’s Brat Pack from the late 1990s
In this Greg Moore series, I decided from the start that I would make it fun building up to October 31. I wanted it to be a celebration, and make you all laugh, and it seems to have worked judging by the responses from you all. These Brat Pack tales later on are great examples…
I put the stories on hold because of the loss of Dan Wheldon. I wanted to interview Dan after Las Vegas to complete this series about being in a Brat Pack. He’d already said yes to my request.
But October 31 is a date that will stick with me forever. So here is one more… And if you ask nicely I have a load more stuff from Tony, Max and Dario.
This one, however, is really for Greg, and on the week of the anniversary, one I want to share, once again to bring a smile and a laugh.
However, so you don’t get a one-dimensional idea about him, one thing I must say here and now is that there was a lot more to Greg Moore. It wasn’t all laughs and pranks. He had a very serious side too.
He was a fiercely determined, talented and focused race driver, and on the track he wouldn’t mess with anyone – friend or foe. Witness his ‘ambitious’ start from 14th in Portland where he crashed into five other cars at the first corner in 1998. OK, his move didn’t work, but it shows there was no on-track ‘after you my friend’. It was winning that meant the most. He was also the guy that stood up, apologised and said, “Yep, my mistake”.
In 2000 there was a great book published called ‘Greg Moore – Legacy of Spirit’, which tells his story. The proceeds of the book went to Greg’s foundation gregmoore.com . He had already raised a lot of money during his career for his foundation, and while it has recently stopped receiving donations, 12 years after he died his efforts are still helping others.
By 1999 his talent was already being noticed in Formula 1, and his links with Mercedes (he went to Grands Prix when he could) meant that he was a possibility at McLaren. The bigger likelihood was Williams, and that year Frank Williams called, and they even got to the point of contract talks. However, he also had an option with Marlboro Team Penske in America and that is the one he took up and signed for 2000 in August 1999. With that, he could see the future was bright. Dario Franchitti: “When he signed that deal he was like a kid with a new toy.”
Besides the serious side, there were still the friendships and good times to be had. That came in the shape of the ‘Brat Pack’: Greg, Dario, Max Papis and Tony Kanaan. Their next best friend was ‘mischief’.
Franchitti: “These memories really confirm to me that Greg, Max, Tony and me were absolutely having the time of our lives. As was shown in the story of the day on the road trip in Miami, it was never boring being around Greg. It was always exciting and there was fun to found around every corner. I’m so glad I was a part of it.”
Just one example of their mischief – which I, among many others, fell for – was when the four of them were in Greg’s bus kicking their heels as the track dried in a rain delay. “We were trying to work out ways of winding up the press,” laughs Dario. “That’s kind of typical about where we were at. We were all sat in the bus, saying what can we do? I know, ‘Greg to NASCAR’ – perfect, that’ll work! What’s going to happen now? We started the rumour… whispering it quietly to certain journalists. Literally it was like lighting a blue touch paper! No wonder Greg’s Dad used to despair at some of the stuff we did!”
Off the track they went to movies, had dinner, and a laugh. On it they raced each other hard (although it wasn’t uncommon for them to wave at each other as they passed – at 200+mph!). At times they crashed into each other too fighting for space. All drove for different teams, and some owners were a bit wary of how close they were as friends.
Papis, having already been in the shark tank of Formula 1 was wary too. “I had to ask myself ‘should we be friends for real or not?’ The barriers were brought down by Greg for me. You can have rivalries on the track, and then have a BBQ in the evening.”
Kanaan was a latecomer to the gang of four, but fitted right in. “I think my memories will sound a lot like Dario’s and Max’s, says the Brazilian. “I only spent two years racing with Greg, 1998 and 1999, because I was doing Indy Lights before. Just imagine that we were like young kids, being race car drivers and just enjoying it for what it was.”
Tony remembers a story about the ‘Brat Pack’ photo scooter shoot done by Mike Levitt at LAT USA. “Yes! After that shoot Greg grabbed the keys of my scooter and disappeared, so I had to push my bike all the way back. He rode back, gave the keys to one of my crew in the truck, laughing. It was a huge walk, and I was late… That was Greg right there.”
Their trip to Max’s home by Lake Como in Italy, is funny and brings Formula 1 again into the story. Max has a fascinating, and slightly leftfield, take on the Brat Pack’s friendship and attitudes compared to racing today. “I’m so pleased to see Sebastian Vettel win races and championships in Formula 1,” Max says, “as he reminds me a lot of Greg. He enjoys life, and the difference between him and Michael Schumacher in personality couldn’t be more opposite. They are both from Germany, but he is such a smiling guy, joking in the press conferences and stuff like that. He is a good example for the young generation.”
In 2000, Dario took pole position at Vancouver, Greg’s hometown, and among the many emotional moments that weekend, he was presented with the new Greg Moore Trophy by Greg’s dad Ric.
I was there that weekend, and I asked Dario to sign my copy of the ‘Legacy of Spirit’ book. In it he wrote: “This is a great book, but all the really good stories remain untold!”
Dario remembers those Brat Pack days with affection, and he, Max and Tony naturally remain extremely good friends. In many ways for them, there is a light that will never go out.
They are all ‘grown up’ now, responsible adults, but you still know in the off-season a night out may not be far away… They aren’t Brats anymore, but they are best friends.
“There are so many memories of us all together,” says Dario. “Helsinki was definitely a highlight. How can you describe it all? We travelled around from race to race. We went from Vancouver, over to Surfers Paradise, to Helsinki to Max’s house in Italy. And just the wind-ups and the pranks from that were pretty good. I can’t say much more on it than that!
“In my office in Scotland I’ve got a big oil painting that an artist in Vancouver did of Greg,” continues Dario, “and some days I sit back, look at it, shake my head, and think of some of the stuff we got up to.
“We said it at the time, we’ve said it ever since, and it will always be true. I’ve never met anybody like him. He was a one-off, no doubt.”