A year ago today, Kenny Brack nearly died in the Chevy 500 Indy Racing League IndyCar Series season finale on the high banks of Texas Motor Speedway. At this moment, the 1998 IndyCar Series champion and 1999 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race winner is...
A year ago today, Kenny Brack nearly died in the Chevy 500 Indy Racing League IndyCar Series season finale on the high banks of Texas Motor Speedway. At this moment, the 1998 IndyCar Series champion and 1999 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race winner is readying for a second test in preparation for a return to the cockpit.
It's been said that racers never know when or how to step out of the cockpit; Brack may be an exception to that rule. After an initial June test on the very physical 3/4-mile Richmond International Raceway oval, the Swede declared himself not ready for prime time and decided to continue with his Rahal Letterman Racing team as an advisor to drivers Buddy Rice and Vitor Meira.
That very mature choice is one we might expect from someone like Kenny Brack, a visceral racer who always seems to plot his moves with the care of a surgeon. These days, unfortunately, Brack has plenty of familiarity with surgical work, having spent the past year recovering from breaks to his ribs, legs, ankles and back, together with attendant internal injuries requiring added trips to hospital.
Does he feel hesitant about returning to the Texas Motor Speedway or to the state of Texas? Not one iota. "I have a lot of friends in Texas. I lived there for two years," Brack contended as he referred to his successful tenure with A.J. Foyt Enterprises.
He'd also like to visit the physicians who cared for him at Parkland Hospital: "I want to see the people who rebuilt me," Brack laughed. "The last time I saw them I was a little hazy, so I'm looking forward to going back there and to the track."
The last time he tested for Rahal Letterman Racing, Brack turned some competitive times but didn't have the stamina necessary to compete. When he tests with the team again in November at a location yet to be determined, Brack will be looking to see if he's ready. "That was a technical track and after the test I felt I still wasn't fit enough, strong enough to go 250 laps competitively.
"I had not planned to stop yet. I think I've got a few more years and I still feel I can do this," he insisted. "I want to continue but I don't want to force anything. I must be competitive enough. That's what these tests are for. I have to put myself in the environment and see if I'm fit enough. Guys have to be extremely fit to do this type of work and I want to be in the same shape as others. It's the only way to be competitive," Brack contended.
Kenny has seen video and still images of his tremendous accident. "It was one of the worst I'd seen but at the same time I felt okay. I knew the result and it was just a wild crash. Ninety-nine percent of the time drivers walk away from these accidents. I just happened to be one who did not."
When he gets a head cold - or something of that nature - Brack can feel his joints stiffening. "It's little things like that" which still bother the driver. "When you break that many bones you can't be normal too quickly. I do all the things I did before on a day-to-day basis; in that respect I guess I'm back to normal."
What he misses most is, obviously the competition part of motor sport. "I just love to work with the team, make the car as good as possible and try to win the race. I miss driving the car and the competitive environment of the Indy Racing League," Brack stated.
He simply wants to see what will happen with his November test and gauge the possibility of a return to competition after that. "I have to see if I can, and if I want to come back. I have to be 100 percent competitive."
Staying with Rahal Letterman Racing is part of the program. "They've been behind me the whole way and, if the test goes well a few questions remain to be answered. You can't deal with it until you know" the results of a day on the track. "They've been extremely loyal to me during this difficult period and, while it's possible I might go to another team if I'm ready to race," Brack doesn't think that would be the case.
He doesn't spend time thinking about what could have been or what might be in store for himself. Why do this again? "I go at it from the standpoint of having to rebuild my whole body. I know I need time to get up to speed and there's a lot of work involved in doing so. I'm not interested," Brack insisted, "in anything but being competitive and I know it requires a lot of work.
"I've been very clear about my objectives and am prepared to make the best possible choices" when the time comes. Until then why bother?
The prospective of road and street races is quite compelling to Kenny Brack, who got his racing start on those types of tracks. The fact that the IndyCar Series is going to road courses "is very positive for the IRL. Particularly with the street race [in St. Petersburg, FL next April 3] it's a great opportunity to bring the product to fans. It's very good for the series.
"I enjoy ovals but I've always been competitive on road and street courses," Brack reminded. "I won races in FIA Formula 3000 and CART on the road and street courses and both disciples have their charms. It is a very positive thing to diversify," he said.
"The IRL has made changes to the cars and they've put in the SAFER walls, but the teams, engineers and manufacturers are trying to make the cars faster" even as the League instigates measures to slow them down. "They're trying to keep things under control, but this type of racing has always been more risky than any other."
The type of close competition emblematic of the League is "great for the fans and extremely exciting with all the passing. This is an extremely competitive series. We run close, wheel-to-wheel on the ovals. Drivers most of the time walk away but there's always the chance you can get hurt. There's no change to my perspective. I'm very aware" of the dangers.
What Kenny Brack needs in his life is the physical challenge of racing and, while wife Anita would likely "prefer me not to go back, she will support my decision. I don't see that as an influence" on whether he returns to racing or not.
That's why, when it is time to go test again in an Indy car, Kenny Brack will find a most physically-taxing track on which to challenge himself, staying away from superspeedways such as this weekend's venue, Texas Motor Speedway. "I want to put myself through the toughest possible situation" to determine fitness for competition. "There won't be 20 cars around me so a superspeedway isn't the best possible place."
Competing in "15-20 races a year, you know you're going to whack the wall at some point. You've got to feel strong enough to take that; you've got to have the stamina and strength to be ready if something goes wrong. I always felt like a cat in the car. You could throw me out a window and I'd bounce back. When I tested in June, I wasn't ready for that type of abuse."
Will he be ready in November? The way Kenny Brack looks and professes to feel this October 12th, he could be ready for prime time. Only that elusive test will tell, though, and Kenny's not ready to worry about it until it's time to do so.