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X Marks The Spot Of Brack’s Return

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 2 2009

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Kenny Brack (Ford Racing Photo)

Kenny Brack (Ford Racing Photo)

Kenny Brack came to grips with the end of his professional racing career on a May afternoon in 2005, when he climbed out of an Indy-car and decided he was “back to normal.”

So…what in the wide world of Action Sports is Brack doing in the X Games 15 Rally Competition? Acting like a 43-year-old rookie but driving like an Indianapolis 500 champion – a combination that could produce a contradiction for the ages Sunday afternoon.

Brack, the 1999 Indy 500 winner, earned the No. 1 seed during time trials Friday by touring a man-made rally course in Carson, Calif., in 57.006-seconds in his 2009 three-door Ford Fiesta. Teammate Tanner Foust, a two-time X Games medalist and 2007 X Games Rally Champion, earned the No. 2 seed at 57.396 seconds. Converted to Rally America specs, the Fiestas driven by Brack and Foust were the only cars to break into the 57-second barrier on the course’s all-asphalt portion.

Meanwhile, 10-time X Games medalist and Motocross superstar Brian Deegan – driving a 2008 three-door Fiesta in his first X Games rally event – was fourth overall. Deegan’s best lap was just six-hundredths of a second behind archrival Travis Pastrana, the 2008 X Games rally champion.

Brack, Foust and Deegan are driving Fiestas entered and prepped by Sweden’s Olsbergs Motor Sport Evolution team. It’s the same organization that produced a second-place Unlimited class finish with two-time European World Rally Champion Marcus Grönholm in the annual Pikes Peak International Hill Climb two weeks ago.

Brack, who won the 1998 IndyCar Series championship and ’99 Indy 500 while driving for open-wheel legend A.J. Foyt Jr., made it clear this is not the start of a comeback.

“It’s fun to take part in the X Games; it’s a big event for this type of motorsport and it’s just a great feeling to be out there,” said Brack, whose last race was the 89th Indy 500 on May 29, 2005. “It’s quite different from what I’m used to doing. It’s kind of like I’m a rookie again. The Fiesta is a great car and it’s great to be involved with it. We’re just trying to get our heads around the car, basically.”

X Games 15 Rally Competition will be televised live from the Home Depot Center on ABC Sunday from 3 to 6 p.m., EDT. Brack will face 12th-seeded Jimmy Keeney in the first round of eliminations with a sense of wondernment. “Well, it’s an amazing event,” Brack said. “The course is very tight and unforgiving, as most of these types of events are. It’s very challenging, too. I was just amazed to see the work that goes on, especially down in the stadium, where it looks like a sculpture. There’s very little running on the track, compared to certain races, which I guess that’s kind of the Rally style.

“In racing you have to fine-tune everything, and here it’s more like experience and you go with the flow more. Sunday will be totally different because they will add the gravel section to the course. There will be a couple of sections going from gravel to asphalt and actually to cement where it will be extremely slick. Of course, we have the big jump that I have never done before, so who knows – this might turn out to be the easy part.”

That said, anyone who witnessed Brack’s horrific crash at Texas Motor Speedway on Oct. 12, 2003 knows the quiet Swede has been to the edge. The field in the season-ending Chevy 500k was working Lap 188 of the scheduled 200 when the cars driven by Brack and Tomas Scheckter touched wheels down the backstretch. Brack’s Team Rahal entry was whistling along at approximately 220 mph, and the contact launched his Dallara/Honda into the air before it slammed into the catch fence. The resulting impact sent wheels, tires, chassis parts and carbon fiber pieces flying like shrapnel. As it was designed to do, only the driver’s “tub” section remained intact. When it slid to a stop at the bottom of Turn 3, Brack was alive but battered.

Brack suffered a fractured right femur, a fractured sternum and lumbar and fractures to both ankles. Transported to Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Brack’s ankles and right femur were repaired only a few hours after the crash. The next day, his L-3 vertebrae was fused to the L-2 and L-4 vertebrae during an eight-hour procedure.

Doctors from four Parkland departments – Neurosurgeons, Orthopedic surgeons, cardio specialists and the trauma team – met with  Brack in the Intensive Care Unit three days after the crash. All were pleased with Brack’s progress, which nevertheless was set back when he developed a near-fatal blood clot in a lung one month later. Basically, Brack was immobilized on his back for nearly two months, a period during which he dropped 20 pounds off his already sinewy 5-foot-7, 148-pound frame. 
 
Brack endured eight major surgeries and 19 months of therapy before returning to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May 2005.

Rahal Letterman Racing co-owner Bobby Rahal, who had taken Brack to the rival CART Series in 2000, offered Kenny the chance to replace Buddy Rice – the injured/reigning 2004 Indy 500 winner. Brack did not disappoint, posting the fastest speed of any of the 33 qualifiers. But because he did not qualify on Pole Day, Brack started 23rd, in Row 8 of the traditional 11 rows of three.

Brack’s race-day at IMS was anticlimactic, ending via a mechanical failure after 92 of the scheduled 200 laps and a 26th-place finish. Still, the Month of May had given closure to Kenny and wife Anita.

“Well, put it this way,” Brack said, “I came back and obviously it was a great relief to myself to see that I was back to where I was before the accident. You need to see that you are back to normal, especially after a big accident like that. I set the fastest qualifying time, and I felt that I could do this as competitively as before. However, I was in a different position. I started a family, and I just had my daughter (Karma). To compete at that level consistently, it requires such an effort. I didn’t feel like I had room for anything else in my life. I just came to the conclusion, on the possibilities of continuing, I came to the conclusion that I won Indy, I won the championship. I had a successful racing career, now I have a family. Let’s focus on that, instead of going around in circles.

“In retrospect, I think everything has its time in a lifetime. When you’re 20 or 30, yeah, racing is fun. When you’re 40 it can still be fun, but when you get up to 40 or 50, your focus has changed. If that happens, and you feel like you want to have time for other things, there’s no way you’re going to be able to beat the other guys. If you don’t feel like you have the energy to beat the other guys, then what’s the point of competing? That was the reason that I said I need to stop. These things we’re doing here require a lot of effort, too, but it’s for a few short days and it’s not year-around. It’s not testing and developing and thinking about it 365 days a year.”

Brack said he still owns a house in Indianapolis, his adopted American hometown since 1997. “I live in London, England, now, but the States will always have a special place in my heart,” said Brack, who won three of 11 races en route to his IndyCar title in 1998. “I lived here (USA) most of my grown-up life, actually. I feel very much at home here. I know a lot of people, and I love the American way and the American mentality. I still feel close to the States, and I probably always will.”

Brack’s journey through the challenging European ladder system began with Formula Open Lotus in 1988-89 and peaked with a test in an uncompetitive Arrows Formula One car in 1996. Based upon those experiences, Brack now runs a driver development program for European wannabes. “Olsbergs is one of the sponsors in the program,” Brack said. “I got this invitation to compete in the X Games and Olsbergs asked me to go and do it, so I said yeah, why not? That was the start of it all. It is very different from what I’ve done before. The biggest difference is you don’t practice as much. Obviously the speeds are slower, but you’re going to have to fit that car in between these walls everywhere, and the Fiesta is a little machine. It’s going to be challenging to do that competitively, but nothing is impossible.”

As a top-four finisher from last year, Foust has a first-round bye in-hand Sunday. He termed the Fiesta “an angry little car.”

“The cars that the Fiesta is going against aren’t regular Subarus and Mitsubishis,” Foust said, “but quarter-million-dollar Rally cars that have been used over the years and tailored by very professional teams just for this purpose. So the fact that these Fiestas are able to just be thrown in and in basically two days be set up to be competitive and even take the top two qualifying spots, that really says a lot for the Fiesta platform. And that is promising for us this weekend.”

A Formula Pro Drift Champion, Foust confirmed that Brack has been a quick study.

“Kenny looks awesome in the car, as you would expect,” said Foust, who is driving the ROCKSTAR five-door Ford Fiesta. “We had a few days of testing. The thing is, what you don’t get to do in Rally racing very often is watch your teammates and competitors. You rarely get a chance in Rally racing to watch them unless you’re watching from the lines or on TV afterwards. Kenny is very precise, so I have gone to school a little bit on him tightening up and resisting some of my natural urges to drift and slide the car. I also rode with Brian, who I think is going to surprise a lot of people. I think having the three of us together is really going to benefit all of us as a team.”

Because of his age, Brack doesn’t neatly fit into the demographic that Jaime Allison, manager of Ford’s Performance Group, is cultivating with social media that includes blogging, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Those media currently are spreading the vibe on the new Fiesta, which is scheduled to be introduced domestically in 2010.

Pesky demos aside, Brack said an X Games experience is something he would recommend to any of his open-wheel peers.

“Definitely, and I think these types of cars are very accessible,” Brack said. “I couldn’t drive an Indy-car anymore because I’m not fit enough. You have to spend two hours a day in the gym to just be able to drive those cars. These cars, they’re fast, they’re explosive, but the lack of G’s and the length of the runs are short, so you can get in these cars and you can actually use the car’s potential. I haven’t been racing for four or five years, but I can still get in there and physically have no limitations, which is a great thing. You can have a lot of fun with it.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 2 2009
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