With a potentially fatal car crash on its hands and yards of tape on its recorders, ESPN played its live coverage of Greg Moore’s crash close to the vest Sunday during its broadcast of the Marlboro 500.
Moore later died from injuries suffered on lap 10 of the 250-lap race at California Speedway in Fontana, the final event of the Championship Auto Racing Teams FedEx championship series. ESPN was quick to cut to the crash as it was happening, showing Moore’s top-side impact with the infield retaining wall, the car splitting into two pieces, and the cockpit flipping upside down as it came to rest.
It brought simultaneous exclamations from both broadcasters Paul Page and Parker Johnstone.
“An enormous crash!” Page said as it unfolded before him. “Oh my God, a terrible crash.”
But there were no replays of the violent crash, which driver Alex Barron--about 200 feet behind Moore--called, “the most horrifying crash I’ve ever seen in front of me. . . . The car exploded in a thousand pieces.”
Director Mark Causey quickly pulled away from the medium shot of Moore’s car, earning the praise of producer Shawn Murphy.
“We don’t ever want to show something that’s graphic or disturbing,” Murphy said. “We had stuff that was bad. There’s no reason to show that again.
“The judgment we’ve always used is to err on the conservative side. There are family members out there who don’t know any more than any other viewer.”
The Code 5 crash--CART’s code to emergency personnel for injuries that are serious and possibly life-threatening--took place outside of Turn 2 at almost the exact location as Richie Hearn’s crash six laps earlier.
The network did not show workers extricating Moore, administering resuscitative efforts, or loading him into an ambulance that transported him to the helicopter that took him to Loma Linda University Medical Center.
Murphy said his first instinct told him Moore suffered fatal injuries and he ordered a tribute for the driver be made of past highlights. Murphy did not get official word on Moore’s condition, though, until it was broadcast over the air by Dr. Steve Olvey in an interview with pit reporter Gary Gerould.
Olvey’s announcement was almost two hours after Moore’s crash, about 65 minutes after he was pronounced dead at 1:21 p.m. The tribute played as the network faded to a commercial break.
Gerould, whose voice trembled during post-race interviews with series champion Juan Montoya and owner Chip Ganassi, was also a reporter in 1996 when La Canada driver Jeff Krosnoff was killed in Toronto, the series’ last driver fatality in a race. Gerould said his recollection was that there were no replays then, either, only the view as it happened.
“They knew from some aerial shots and some other information that there was virtually no chance of survivability,” Gerould said of Krosnoff’s crash, calling it similar to Moore’s in that respect.
During the 13-lap caution period, ESPN relied on aerial shots of the two-mile oval and in-car views from race leader Michael Andretti’s cockpit.
ESPN replayed Hearn’s accident several times, including once during the caution period for Moore. Hearn was uninjured in his crash and was eventually interviewed on-air during the Moore caution period.
Similar restraint took place in the announcers’ booth. Page and Johnstone did not offer any speculation about Moore’s condition, deferring to on-air reports from Dr. Olvey. Page specifically said there was no need to rush information that might be inaccurate.
In fact, Page repeated Olvey’s original report of severe internal and head injuries only once before the death of Moore was announced on air concurrently with an announcement to race spectators and media.
“I’m pretty proud of our staff,” Murphy said. “They handled it very well, and that’s not easy; they’re friends with those [drivers].”