January 3, 2018
Can you think of a bigger “what if” in racing than Greg Moore?
The popular Canadian open-wheel racer is still remembered today of one of the sport’s biggest talents. In 1997, at 22 years-old, he became the youngest driver to ever win in CART. Through four full-time seasons in the series, Moore won five races, battled for the championship, and asserted himself as one of the biggest stars IndyCar would have in the future. His untimely passing truly left a hole in North-American motorsports.
But it’s not just IndyCar that Greg Moore had a bright future in. He may have eventually gone to NASCAR.
By 1999, Moore was established as one of IndyCar’s best drivers and was invited to compete in the IROC Series. The four-race series was comprised of 12 all-star drivers competing in Pontiac Firebirds built similar to NASCAR racers. In full-bodied stock-cars, he immediately excelled against the NASCAR drivers.
In the season-opening race at Daytona, Moore ran near the front. He finished 5th in his first stock-car race, beating Jeff Gordon, Dale Jarrett, and Rusty Wallace and Dale Earnhardt Jr. who were taken out in an early wreck. In the next race at Talladega, Moore finished 7th.
By 1999, Tony Stewart was leading everyone to believe that IndyCar drivers can easily find success in NASCAR. In his first 10 races, Stewart had 4 top-10s and people believed Moore could be just as good. His results in IROC certainly impressed the stock-car community.
Moore he made no secret that he wanted to run NASCAR, and teams wanted to get him. So while the Canadian’s contract with Team Forsythe was up at the end of the year, he was sought by both IndyCar and NASCAR organizations. For a few months in 1999, Greg Moore was one of the biggest free agents in both series. A switch to NASCAR was a possibility he liked.
“It’s certainly something I’m interested in,” Moore said about NASCAR. “I enjoy racing in the IROC series and I’ve made some friends among the Winston Cup drivers. I’d like to keep all my options open.”
Aside from the different cars, there were many benefits to NASCAR that intrigued him.
“I think your career can be longer over there,” Moore told USA Today’s Steve Ballard in early May. “You can be older and still be competitive because of the way the cars are. It’s not as physically demanding. It’s more a thinking-man’s kind of thing.”
At the same time Moore was considering his future, one of his competitors in CART was going to NASCAR. Car-owner Cal Wells planned to start a NASCAR team in 2000 with sponsorship from McDonald’s and Tide. It also appeared that he wanted to bring an IndyCar driver with him. In mid-May, it was reported that Greg Moore was a candidate for the ride, racing either in the Busch Series or Winston Cup. Also considered was Al Unser Jr. However, Moore told TSN that racing with Wells might be too big of a challenge.
“It’s not all about money. I want to win races,” he said. “With Cal’s deal, it’d be difficult for a rookie driver on a rookie team. On the other hand, it’d be an opportunity that first season just to learn.”
Aside from Wells, Andy Petree also admitted he spoke with Moore about possibly driving his #33 car in 2000, racing as a teammate to Kenny Wallace. That car was later given to Joe Nemechek.
New rumors about Moore were spread in early June near the third IROC race of the year. On the two-mile Michigan oval, Moore ran as high as second, behind Dale Earnhardt before wearing out his tires and falling to ninth. Off the track, it was rumored that Moore might just run the upcoming Winston Cup race at Daytona. He was spotted speaking at length with Bobby Labonte and apparently developed a good friendship with Jeff Burton. Whether there was any truth to them or not, rumors claimed he could race for either Bill Elliott or Felix Sabates in the July 4th race at Daytona. The race came and went with no sighting of Moore.
But as contracts were posed to Moore in July, he still refused to rule out stock cars, admitting several teams had made him offers.
“I’ve got two or three good opportunities here (CART) and two or three good opportunities over there (NASCAR),” Moore told TSN in late July.
However, the NASCAR speculation ended in early August when Moore landed the best seat in IndyCar, a ride with Roger Penske. He was scheduled to replace Al Unser Jr. in 2000 at the famed team. Still, switching series could’ve been a possibility down the road. In the book, Greg Moore: A Legacy of Spirit, Tony Kanaan claimed Moore would’ve gone to NASCAR with Penske a few years later. Perhaps he was being considered to replace Rusty Wallace when he retired.
Just a few days after the Penske deal was announced, the IROC season ended at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Because open-wheel racing had split into CART and the IRL, Moore never competed in the Indianapolis 500. The IROC race at Indy turned out to be the only time he drove at the speedway. And the race went terribly.
On lap three, Moore spun in the second turn and hit the wall with the left side of his Pontiac. His race ended early and Moore fell to last in the IROC standings.
Tragically, he never got the chance to drive for Roger Penske or race in NASCAR. In the season-finale CART race at Fontana on Halloween, Moore was killed in a violent crash early in the event. In the years that followed, his number 99 was retired by CART, memorial awards were named after him, and he was inducted into several Hall of Fame’s.
Greg Moore’s legacy still lives among open-wheel racing fans. He’s remembered as a strong racer who was respected away from the track. NASCAR fans almost were almost blessed to watch him as well.