POWER TEAM CREW THE FINAL PIECE IN BRACK'S CHAMPIONSHIP PUZZLE INDIANAPOLIS, Nov. 18, 1998 - Pep Boys Indy Racing League champion Kenny Brack was a lowly 15th in the standings after the first two races of the 1998 season. After...
POWER TEAM CREW THE FINAL PIECE IN BRACK'S CHAMPIONSHIP PUZZLE
INDIANAPOLIS, Nov. 18, 1998 - Pep Boys Indy Racing League champion Kenny Brack was a lowly 15th in the standings after the first two races of the 1998 season.
After six of the season's 11 races, Brack, driving the Power Team Racing Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear owned by four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt, had climbed to sixth, but trailed points leader Scott Sharp by 73 points. In that sixth race, the Pep Boys 400K at Dover, Del., he finished 10th despite being 51 laps behind winner Sharp at the checkered flag. Then Brack, a native of Karlstad, Sweden, now living in Houston, won three straight races and scored 203 points over the last five races to take the title 332-292 over Davey Hamilton, the driver Brack replaced on the Foyt team.
Saturday night, Brack, Foyt and the unsung Power Team Racing crew headed by team manager Tommy LaMance will receive a champions' salute at the black-tie 1998 Pep Boys Indy Racing League Awards Ceremony in Indianapolis. Brack and A.J. Foyt-Power Team Racing will receive more than $1.2 million in bonuses and awards for winning the championship.
John King, Brack's trackside crew chief, says the Pep Boys 400K at Dover Downs International Speedway was the turning point in the season, while LaMance, who is Foyt's nephew, believes the final pit stop in the Visionaire 500K the following weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway was the pivotal move of the season.
"We didn't run well in practice (at Dover) and on the first lap had an injector go bad," King said. "That put us down 50 laps, but after that we could outrun anybody.
"It showed Kenny and the whole team that you can't ever give up. We went to Charlotte and had the car that could win. And we did."
But the pressure was on the Power Team crew at Charlotte when Brack came in for his final stop on a short yellow with the field preparing for the restart.
"We had to dive in at the very last moment with the track ready to go green," LaMance said. "We put on four tires and fuel and he was able to catch up with the back of the pack.
"What was critical there was if we screwed up we would have lost a lap. If we'd had a bad stop we'd never have got the victory. That sticks out as the springboard to the championship."
When racing resumed a few seconds later, Brack shoved the throttle to the floor and on Lap 196 swept by leader Jeff Ward to grab the lead. He lead to the finish for his first Pep Boys Indy Racing League victory in 14 races.
"We just told everybody to take their time, do what they had been doing and it worked," said King, who is the left front tire changer.
Brack won the next two races at Pikes Peak International Raceway and Atlanta Motor Speedway in July, taking the lead away from Sharp at Atlanta and holding it through the final checkered flag at Las Vegas.
The season got off to a miserable start for the team, however. At the Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway in January, two studs on the upper A-arm broke in the race and had to be replaced. Then at the March 29 Dura Lube 200 at Phoenix International Raceway, Brack was in second and challenging for the lead 15 laps from the finish when he and Mike Groff made contact, sending both into the wall.
At Indianapolis, Brack qualified on the outside of the front row (teammate Billy Boat won the pole) and led 23 laps before his car ran out of fuel in Turn 2. He had to coast all the way around to the pits, losing two laps in the process. Brack still fought back to finish fifth behind winner Eddie Cheever Jr.
"We were strong all month and had the car to beat if things went our way," King said. "They don't always go your way. You don't last long in racing if you don't know that."
Foyt and Brack, of course, received all of the attention from the media. But there are a number of unsung roll players who helped the team win Foyt's second Indy Racing League title (Scott Sharp, driving for Foyt at the time, shared the inaugural championship with Buzz Calkins in 1996).
LaMance, recently married, began working for his uncle as a mechanic in 1991 while still in college (he started college at Texas Tech University and graduated from University of Houston) and became team manager in 1994.
LaMance's duties during the race include conversing with Brack in the car, relaying information to Foyt and helping plot strategy. Foyt also talks on the radio with Boat, but LaMance says he never gets things confused.
"(A.J. is) so focused and he knows what both drivers are going through," LaMance said. "We lean on A.J. for mid-race changes."
Craig Baranouski oversees building of both team cars. He also works in the pits on Boat's machine.
King, 60, is the lead mechanic on Brack's car and in charge of any front end changes. He's a former fruit farmer who lives in Sodus, Mich., in the southwest part of the state. He owned modified and sprint cars in his younger days and has worked full time on Indy cars the past 12 years for drivers such as Hamilton, Sharp, Teo Fabi, Eric Bachelart, Allesandro Zampedri, Robbie Buhl, Mike Groff and Roberto Guerrero.
Wayne Gape of Houston is in charge of the rear of the car and changes the right rear tire. Bill Davis of Houston changes the left rear and Mark Lubin of Houston the right front.
Brett Barnhart is a weekend mechanic from Indiana who handles the air jack and fueling vent. Glenn Wheeler, who owns Performance Graphics in Indianapolis, does the refueling. Wheeler formerly worked for Chip Ganassi's CART team as a truck driver and mechanic.
"There is competition (between Brack's and Boat's pit crews)," LaMance said. "That's the only thing we let them compete in. We're one team that runs two cars. When it comes down to it, one team wants to beat the other in the pits. We have a lot of competitions in our (Houston) shop."
LaMance speaks highly of Brack's ability in a race car.
"He's very cool," LaMance said. "He's not a guy who's impressed with leading every lap. He just keeps the leaders in sight and turns it on at the end. Apart from Billy Boat, he's the fastest guy on the racetrack. It's paid off big time."
LaMance noted that Brack always has been very confident, but when the first victory occurred it elevated the team's confidence two notches.
"I guess this is almost a dream come true," King said about the championship. "We were second last year and so darn close (six points). You wonder if it's ever going to happen."