One year ago, Greg Moore was everywhere at the three-day open testing event that starts the countdown to a Championship Auto Racing Teams season.
The native of Maple Ridge, B.C., was a man in demand, one of the favourites for the 1999 season, and in his element at the casual event that brings the CART community together under the Florida sunshine to get some testing kilometres in, renew acquaintances and refresh rivalries.
This year, Moore was still on everyone's mind as the teams gathered for the fifth annual edition of CART's spring training. But because of his fatal crash in California in the final race last season, Moore lives in memory alone.
Last night at CART's all-star awards presentation, Moore's memory was recognized when he was made an honorary member of the 1999 CART all-star team, which includes driver Paul Tracy of Toronto. Moore's spirit was recognized with a 40-second video tribute featuring the Tragically Hip song Courage, which was played at his memorial service last year in Vancouver.
Moore will also be honoured next week in Vancouver with the Jack Diamond Award, which recognizes an individual who consistently demonstrated a competitive and co-operative spirit, who excelled in sport and who made a positive contribution to the community. The award will be presented to Moore's family on Feb. 15 at the annual Jewish Community Centre sports dinner.
"I think about Greg every day," veteran driver Jimmy Vasser of the Target/Chip Ganassi team said. "That whole event deeply affected my life. I feel differently now."
It was a sentiment echoed up and down the paddock on a day when the first and last topic of conversation is usually about new chassis and engine combinations, who's been left out in the latest driver shuffle and which team has shown best in off-season testing.
Moore was the linchpin of a group of drivers who were unusually close, compared with the lone wolf spirit that dominates most premier racing series. The 24-year-old would spend his off-season being host to Team Kool Green rival Dario Franchitti on a ski trip in Whistler, B.C., and jet-setting throughout Europe with Franchitti and a handful of other drivers who made up what was known as the CART brat-pack. But with the centre gone, the group has changed, as each found his own way to see himself through the loss of a friend.
"I'm closer to some of the guys now," Vasser said, "and I've drifted apart from others."
Franchitti, Moore's closest friend in racing, said he spent the months away from the track more quietly than he had in the past, hanging out in Nashville with his girlfriend, actress Ashley Judd, as well as old friends and family.
Franchitti lost the drivers championship to hot-shot rookie Juan Montoya when a minor mistake by his crew on a pit stop prevented him from finishing any better than 12th. A single spot higher would have clinched the title.
Yet, he said he's given little thought to his close miss. And unlike last off-season, Franchitti kept more to himself over the past few months.
But the tragedy of last season -- in addition to Moore's death, rookie driver Gonzalo Rodriguez was killed in practice for the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey -- has brought the driving community together in a different way, lending an urgency to concerns they have about safety on tracks where they race wheel to wheel at more than 300 kilometres an hour.
"The safety issue has definitely been energized," said Tim Mayer, CART's senior vice-president of racing operations. "The drivers are getting themselves more organized about expressing their point of view."
The drivers have always been able to express their concerns about safety, either through the drivers safety committee, a group of three or four members who drivers elect to meet with CART and race promoters, or, more informally, at drivers meetings that are part of each race weekend.
But with Moore's tragedy so fresh in their minds, his friends are expressing themselves more vigorously, addressing issues such as the surface of run-off areas at tracks and the types of padding on walls.
"One thing [Moore's death]did is make us realize that we can do more as drivers about our safety," Franchitti said. "We certainly won't be taking any [expletive]from promoters about their tracks. If we think a track isn't safe, we may well not run there."
According to Mayer, their efforts will be eagerly received, although he cautions that when it comes to minimizing the damage when things go wrong at high speed, there's no magic wand. A change to improve one area can cause problems in another.
In the meantime, as they take the track for another season, Moore's friends will do what they can to honour his memory and spirit.
"He's gone," said Tony Kanaan, another close friend, who will race this season for the new Mo Nunn Racing team. "You can cry, but it won't bring him back. "The best way to remember him is to smile. Greg was a happy guy."