The mile is the oldest racing facility in the USA and was also the place where my racing idol scored his first win in CART...yes, I know I said I'd wait until later in the year to do my tribute to him and I think I still will anyway but this was too good an opportunity to pass up on.
So who was it and why did they become my idol? Well, if the 'gm99' in my username doesn't give you the answer, allow me to explain; it all began on March 3, 1996. Being an F1 fan, I was curious to see the series that Jacques Villeneuve did so well in before moving to F1. Now, the free-to-air TV coverage showed all the CART races Monday at midnight...which was rather poor timing given I was still at high school so the VCR got a work out that year with all those races as well as the F1 ones *laugh*
Anyway, the first race of 1996 was also the first race of the CART/IRL split but that wasn't the only change. Firing up the race after school on the Tuesday and I saw the telltale light blue/dark blue/white livery of, what I thought, was Villeneuve's replacement. I was wrong as Team Green was using a yellow and red scheme with the number 1 signifying them as the defending years champion...the guy I was watching turned out to be a 20 year old debutant Canadian by the name of Greg Moore.
Moore strapped into his #99 Forsthye Racing Mercedes Benz Reynard.Greg rallied from a lap down to finish seventh...no lucky dog in CART and eventual race winner, Jimmy Vasser, said after the race that he was happy they didn't do another 30 laps or so since Greg's #99 Reynard was easily the fastest car on the track. He followed that up with third place at 'my track' a few weeks later at Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast. That race marked my first ever visit to an openwheel race and after that I was pretty much hooked.
However, I digress...the Milwaukee Mile. Yes, that was the place Greg took his first win in 1997 becoming, at the time, the youngest ever winner of a major race series at the tender age of 21. I must confess to not recalling much of the race but I do remember that pitstops were crucial as was fuel mileage.
Michael Andretti had the best car but it was the #99 who pushed their fuel all the way and Greg somehow was able to keep Michael behind him. Greg managed to go back-to-back, winning the next race at Belle Isle, again on fuel mileage...the guys running 1-2 both ran out on the last lap gifting him the win.
Greg may have only had 5 wins and 72 starts in his career but that only told part of the story for he was set to get the equipment his talent so richly deserved when he joined Penske for the 2000 season...unfortunately, we'll never know how that would have panned out.
I attribute Greg as being the reason I became interested in oval racing in the first place so if Milwaukee does go, I will most certainly be rasing a glass to toast it...and to remember that day in 1997.