BRACK'S SUCCESS HELPS RACING PICK UP SPEED WITH SWEDISH FANS LAS VEGAS, Oct. 1, 1998 -- On March 20, 1966, A.J. Foyt, only a two-time Indy 500 champion at the time, started fourth in a USAC champ car race at Phoenix International...
BRACK'S SUCCESS HELPS RACING PICK UP SPEED WITH SWEDISH FANS
LAS VEGAS, Oct. 1, 1998 -- On March 20, 1966, A.J. Foyt, only a two-time Indy 500 champion at the time, started fourth in a USAC champ car race at Phoenix International Raceway, fell out after 101 laps in 11th place and won a whopping $396.24.
One day later in the distant village of Glava, Sweden, a baby boy was born to Gun and Bert Brack. They gave him the American-sounding name of Kenny.
Thirty-two plus years later, on Oct. 11 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Brack the driver and Foyt the car owner seek to wrap up a $1 million bonus as champions of the Pep Boys Indy Racing League. They need only to finish eighth or better -- or in front of Davey Hamilton and Tony Stewart -- in the Las Vegas 500K to clinch the season title and the Pep Boys Million.
The victory would add another chapter to Foyt's legendary career and make Brack a hero in his homeland, which has produced more famous tennis players than race drivers.
Foyt is best known for his four wins and 35 appearances at Indy. But he's also won enough season championships in major competition as a driver or owner to start his own trophy shop. A second Indy Racing League owner's title would be his 2lst overall.
As a driver, he won USAC champ car championships in 1960, 1961, 1963, 1964, 1967, 1975 and 1979. He captured three USAC stock car titles as a driver (1968, 1978-79) and added an Eastern sprint car crown in 1960 and the 1972 dirt car diadem. In 1974-75, he claimed the title of what was called the World Series of Auto Racing with wins in a sprint and a stock car. He won IROC III and IV championships in 1974 and 1975.
As a car owner, he picked up the USAC champ car championship in 1979 as well as the 1968 and '78-79 stock car crowns and, after a long drought, took the first Indy Racing League owner's title in 1996 with Scott Sharp driving. Sharp and Buzz Calkins tied for the driver title. But that covered only three races, while the 1998 championship encompasses a grueling 11 races.
Brack, who at 32 is almost half of Foyt's 63 years, collected two championships on his way to the IRL and a possible title in only his second year -- and first with Foyt -- on the circuit. In 1992 he captured the Renault Clio Scandinavian title with nine wins and a second. Then the next year he won the Zerex Barber Saab title in America with six victories.
If he has a successful finish at Las Vegas, he would become the first Swedish driver to win an Indy-style championship.
In fact, Stefan Johansson is the only other Swede to drive on this level in the U.S. Now retired and owner of a prominent karting center in Indianapolis and an Indy Lights team, he was born in Vaxjo, Sweden, nearly 10 years before Brack. Driving for Tony Bettenhausen, his best season finish was 11th. He drove in 79 Formula One Grand Prix races without a victory but placed fifth in the 1986 final standings.
"He's put a huge amount of effort into his career," Johansson said of Brack. "It's a classic case of persistence paying off.
"It's not comparable to winning the World Championship, but it is a fantastic accomplishment."
Johansson, whose driver, Guy Smith of England, has won two Lights races and is second in the standings, is extremely happy to see a fellow Swede win in America. He said it has boosted racing interest in their country.
"I'm trying to help young drivers over there," he said. "This will boost the morale of all young drivers. Businesses there see racing as an off sport. The larger corporations don't want to put money into it, but this will help them see it as a sport worth sponsoring."
There have been a few other prominent Swedish drivers in Formula One over the years. They include:
Ronnie Peterson drove in 73 races, winning 10 and placing second in the championship in 1971 and 1978. He was Mario Andretti's teammate in 1978 and suffered fatal injuries in a crash at Monza, Italy, the day Andretti clinched the championship.
Joakim Bonnier drove in 102 F1 races, winning one. His best placing was eighth in 1959. Gunnar Nilsson drove in 31 grand prix and races and finished a career-best eighth in the 1977 standings. Reine Wisell's career was a short 25 races. In 1971, his first season, he finished third in the U.S. Grand Prix and ended ninth in the standings.
Brack still holds high regard for Peterson. When asked about outstanding Swedish athletes, he answered:
"If you look at racing you look at the great driver Ronnie Peterson, who sadly lost his life. And he was very good, very quick. Unfortunately, he wasn't allowed to win when he was racing the last year. But he was always up there pushing Mario, sometimes up beside him trying to get Mario to go quicker.
"He was very, very good. That doesn't take anything from Mario, but Ronnie was very good. And we've had a few other good Swedish racing drivers."
Brack said Sweden has produced other outstanding athletes, with tennis star Bjorn Borg being the most famous to Americans. Ingemar Johansson, world heavyweight boxing champion in the 1950s, and skiing greats Ingemar Stenmark and Gunder Swan are others with international acclaim. There are a flock of Swedes in the National Hockey League and three Swedish golfers are top challengers on the LPGA.
"We've probably had less people successfully racing," Brack said.
"Perhaps that has to do with the negative feeling in Sweden from the late '70s when Ronnie sadly died. And that probably affected the Swedish racing drivers, made it more difficult for people to get up through the ranks. We've had Stefan Johansson since then, and he was successful as well both in Formula One and CART."
Brack's success in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League has made the series very popular in Sweden. He helps make this possible by being very accommodating to the Swedish media. Often after a race he can be found in the press room describing his race over the phone to his homeland.
He said he always has had a good relationship with Swedish journalists, and they have played a key role in advancing his career.
"It's been very important for me to have that relationship, because obviously I have had to finance my racing through sponsors," Brack said. "Subsequently, it is very important to have a good relationship with the press so they write about you and get you PR.
"I'm not in that situation anymore that I need the publicity, because I have a ride here. I don't bring any sponsors into this deal. There is a tremendous interest right now for me and the IRL series in Sweden. I really try to put a little work into that, because I feel I owe that to them."
A victory at Las Vegas will make him even more famous in Sweden. Even more famous than one A.J. Foyt.