Brack: feels like I never left the driver's seat

Published May 25, 2005

INDIANAPOLIS - Among the many details Kenny Brack ironed out last week in preparation for the 89th Indianapolis 500 was ... getting used to a new helmet?

Has it been that long since the 39-year-old Swede drove in competition?

Maybe, depending on how you look at it. Yes, when Brack starts from the middle of Row 8 on Sunday, it will be his first race since a horrific accident in October 2003 at Texas. Then again, no, it can't have been that much of a layoff.

Just watch him drive. Brack still knows his way around the Brickyard.

Following the week-old story of teammate Danica Patrick qualifying fourth and turning the fastest practice lap of the month at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Brack wrote an equally if not more compelling story Saturday with his successful qualifying run.

It was more than just a nice effort - Brack's 227.598 mph average for four laps was faster than the 227.566 mph effort by top qualifier Tony Kanaan on pole day. It was a triumph for a man who was not supposed to be here.

Brack is the late replacement for defending champion Buddy Rice, who was scratched from the race because of injuries sustained in a May 11 wreck in practice.

"I feel very comfortable in this situation, although coming in a little late," Brack said.

Forget comfortable in a race car, Brack struggled for any comfort in the months following his wreck. Late in the Texas 500 at Fort Worth, Brack's car locked wheels with Tomas Scheckter's, sending his car flipping into the catch fence and down the track.

The result was a concussion, two broken ankles, a broken breastbone, cracked ribs, a broken leg and three upper spinal fractures. Though his life wasn't in danger, his future in racing became questionable while he spent three months in the hospital.

Following grueling rehabilitation, however, Brack showed he still had the same skills that carried him to an Indy 500 win in 1999. Last year in a test run at Richmond, he flirted with track-record times, though he still lacked the stamina to last an entire race.

By the start of this racing season, more hours in the gym allowed Brack to gain that strength back, but the problem then became finding a driver's seat.

"For us, we certainly would have had Kenny in a car if the sponsorship was there or what have you," said former Indy champion-turned-car owner Bobby Rahal. "It hasn't been a matter of us not wanting to bring him in, not thinking he was ready; it was a matter of there not being a situation there, an opportunity."

The opportunity arrived with Rice's misfortune, completing a circle of sorts. Rice inherited Brack's ride after the Texas accident, parlaying the chance into an Indy victory last year.

"Because I had to come in on, I guess, adverse situations, when Kenny had his crash and I had to fill in, I couldn't be happier to actually see him be able to come back here and hop in a competitive car," Rice said. "He'll be in a car that will give him another shot to win the Indy 500 again."

That appeared obvious in Brack's qualifying run, where he became the first driver since Arie Luyendyk in 1996 to outperform the polesitter's time (Luyendyk bested Scott Brayton's time; Brayton was killed days after his pole run in an accident in practice). Under the new qualifying format at Indy, his speed only earned him the 23rd spot in the 33-car field, but a celebration was in order.

Rice was quick to offer his congratulations, as was A.J. Foyt, Brack's car owner in 1999. Ditto for Rahal, whose Rahal Letterman team added another contender to go along with Patrick and seventh-qualifying Vitor Meira.

"It feels like, although I haven't driven for them this year, I never really left," Brack said.

It all fits again. Right down to the helmet.