Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
October 12, 2004
THE MODERATOR: We'd like to thank you for joining us on today's Indy Racing League teleconference. Joining us on today's call is Kenny Brack, who last year at this time suffered serious injuries at the IndyCar Series finale on lap 185 at Texas Motor Speedway. His crash was one of the more violent crashes in automobile racing history. But over the past 12 months, he has made incredible strides in his comeback bid. He suffered broken bones in his ribs, leg, both ankles and back. He spent several days at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas before being transported to Indianapolis for his recovery. His recovery actually enabled him to get back into an IndyCar Series car for a test at Richmond International Raceway in June of this year and we're happy to welcome him on today's call to find out how potential upcoming tests and plans might be going. Kenny, thank you very much for being on today's call.
KENNY BRACK: Thank you very much.
THE MODERATOR: Ironically today marks the one-year anniversary today of that terrible-looking crash in turn three at Texas. We've all seen in the paddock area at a few races this year. You look good. I guess the first question today is, really how are you feeling? How are you doing?
KENNY BRACK: I'm doing very good. Actually, you know, I was setting my date on my watch this morning, and that's the first time I thought about it was actually a year ago today that the crash happened. But I look forward. The recovery has gone really well. I'm getting back more and more to normal. Of course, I still feel certain things from the crash, but it's nothing that I haven't learned to live with.
THE MODERATOR: You said for the longest time you hadn't actually seen the crash on video. Have you since seen and watched the crash
KENNY BRACK: Sure, I saw the crash. As soon as I got home, I spent three months in the hospital. But as soon as I got back home to my house, I got ahold of the tape and looked at it, saw everything. You know, during the hospital visits, I obviously saw still photos. But I wasn't in a position to have a video recorder to see the actual live action, live tape basically.
THE MODERATOR: You already tested a car once this summer at Richmond. What are your plans for getting back into an IndyCar Series car?
KENNY BRACK: Well, last time I tested, I concluded after the test that although we were extremely competitive in terms of lap times and stuff like that, I still felt that -- we went to Richmond, which is the most brutal track on the schedule in terms of physical demands, but that's the way we wanted to do it because that's what you're going to face. But after the test, I felt I really wasn't fit enough to drive one of these cars in a race because to do 250 laps around Richmond, you've got to be extremely fit. I just wasn't strong enough. But that was in June. Obviously a few months have gone by now and I've gotten stronger and stronger. You know, my future plans is to get in a car again sometime in November with Team Rahal Letterman and evaluate how my condition is at this moment.
THE MODERATOR: You've won Indianapolis. You're an IndyCar Series champion. Certainly there's nothing else to prove on the racetrack. Do you feel as a competitor, as a driver, there may be something to prove after the crash?
KENNY BRACK: Well, the thing is, you know, I hadn't planned to stop racing at this point. I had planned a few more years to be active as a driver because I feel I'm very competitive still. I've been running up front in races, won races a lot in the past, and I still feel that I have race wins in me. Obviously, I want to continue. At the same time I'm not going to force the issue unless I feel that I am ready and can be competitive. That's what we're trying to evaluate. That's what I'm trying to learn from these tests. It's easy to sit from the sidelines and say, "Yeah, I'm ready, I can go in a car." But you've got to put yourself in the environment and take the decision with that fresh in mind because that's what you're going to be up against when you go into the competition. You're up against guys that are extremely fit and fully committed to do good results, so you're going to have to be on the same level as other competitors to be competitive, basically.
Q. Are you in Sweden now?
KENNY BRACK: No, I'm in the United States.
Q. When you actually saw the video, what did you think? I know when we saw it, I was actually there at the race, it was horrifying to look at.
KENNY BRACK: When I saw it, obviously some time had gone by, and we all knew the results of it. In one way I think it's worse looking at somebody else's accident, because I was in the car, had gone through all the stuff afterwards. I kind of knew how it was to deal with. I think it was an extremely violent crash, of course, one of the worst that I've ever seen actually. But at the same time it felt okay to me because I knew the result. Didn't really think much more of that, more than it was a very violent crash.
Q. You said you're still feeling some of the effects of it. Can you describe what they are?
KENNY BRACK: Yeah, I broke both ankles. One of them was crushed. That ankle is very -- sometimes it's stiff. Sometimes if I get a little cold or something or beginnings of a head cold or something, then I can feel that joint really stiffening up. But all in all, I mean, I'm pretty good shape I would say. But small things like that I can still feel and I probably always will, to be honest with you. I don't think after breaking that many bones you're going to go completely back to normal and not feel a thing from it. But all in all, I think I'm very, very fortunate to have come to this position right now where I can do all the things that I done before and I don't think about, you know, anything. I'm back to normal in a normal day-to-day life basically.
Q. What have you been missing most not being able to compete for the last year?
KENNY BRACK: Well, I miss the competition part of it, you know, to try to work with the team and make the team and the car as good as possible and make the race results and hopefully get wins and stuff like that. That's what I miss the most. You can always perhaps think that not being able to drive, you're going to be a little restless. But, to be honest, I don't know what happened with my time because it seems to have been filled up with a lot of other things. So I'm as busy as I've ever been, but just on different things. But, yeah, I missed driving the car and to be in that environment, of course, to be competitive.
Q. If everything goes well in November when you're doing your test at the racetrack, what kind of time schedule do you see yourself? Will you be ready in the beginning of next season
KENNY BRACK: That's a little early to say. I would like to see. I'll do the test. Depending on what the feelings are after the test, that will be the future from there, I think. And that probably will take a little while to decide. Then, obviously there are obviously a lot of stuff that is in conjunction with the comeback. You know, you got to be able to get in a car, to have a team and a car and everything, all that stuff around it. But the first stage is to test and to see whether I can and want to come back and give a hundred percent what it takes to be competitive. That's the first thing.
Q. About the question of a team and a car, is that really a question?
KENNY BRACK: Well, next year is up in the air for me, obviously at this point. Obviously, Team Rahal has been behind me all the way. My hope is to find a solution for the in future with them if the test goes well so I can be driving and be competitive. But there are those questions that remain to be answered in due course. Is no point dealing with those questions until you know whether you can and want to go into this type of competition again.
Q. I know Bobby seems to have plans to run Danica Patrick next year. Whether or not there will be cars available, if you were a hundred percent and wanted to do it, is it possible that you could run for another team next year if you felt physically capable of driving?
KENNY BRACK: I guess that's possible. But, obviously, like I touched on a little earlier, I think that the team has been extremely loyal to me during this difficult period. Everybody on Team Rahal Letterman has been extremely supportive, from Bobby, David Letterman, Scott Roembke and all the engineers and mechanics and all the other stuff. I would, of course, prefer to find a solution if things go well to be their driver for the next year, too, as was planned from the beginning when we did this latest cooperation with each other. But that remains to be seen. I don't have any answers on that yet. It's not something that I am spending too much time thinking about at this point because I want to make sure that I am ready for this type of competition and I feel a hundred percent for doing this and am willing to put in the effort it takes to be competitive. That's the first thing I need to answer, and then I will worry about the other stuff later.
Q. Do you think you'll have any odd feelings being back at Texas? You didn't come to the June event. Do you think it will be a little bit strange when you get here and see the track and those things kind of come back to you?
KENNY BRACK: No. I love Texas. I lived there for two years (laughter). The reason I didn't go to the June race was that I wasn't really needed there from a team standpoint at that time. I had some other plans to take care of, so that's why I didn't go. I haven't gone to all the races this year, although I've been to the majority of them, helping out with various stuff. But I don't see any -- I don't have any strange or adverse, negative feelings about anything. I still love Texas. I have many friends there. I'm going to go and see all the doctors and nurses and stuff that rebuilt me in Parkland Hospital on Friday. I'm looking very much forward to that. The last time I saw them, I was a little hazy, so I can't really remember that much. I'm looking forward to all this. It's going to be a fun thing to see all the friends down there and go to the track again. At the end, the guys on the track has been very supportive of me always. I look forward to it.
Q. It sounds like you're okay physically, but you're asking yourself, "Do I really want to do this again?" Are you talking about, as you said, the commitment to test, travel, just get back into that grind again? Is that weighing on your mind as much as anything else
KENNY BRACK: Well, when I say I really want to do this, I'm going at that from a standpoint of, you know, I started from zero again pretty much a year ago, since the accident. I had to rebuild the whole body and everything, go through everything. I know that it's going to take me a little bit of time to get up to speed. I'm not worried that I can't do that until the beginning of next season. But there's a lot of work involved in this business if you're going to go at it from the perspective of being very competitive. I'm not interested in being somebody that runs around just to be there. I'm interested in being there, being competitive, trying to win races. You just have to ask yourself all these questions: Are you prepared to put in all that work? Can you do it from a physical standpoint? Stuff like that. Those are questions that you really have to be very clear about when you take a decision to race because if you're not clear on that, I don't believe that you make yourself the best possible platform for doing the results.
Q. The fact that the IRL is adding two road courses and a street race next year, has that piqued your interest, maybe make you want to come back a little more?
KENNY BRACK: I don't think it changes my decision in any way. I think it's very possible for the IRL to go to road courses and particularly street courses because you bring the product to the fans. There are many fans in big cities, so you bring the product there. I think that's going to be very good for the series. I obviously enjoy driving on road courses, you know. I've been very competitive there in the past, when I both in Europe and Formula 3000 and CART, won races. It's a little different atmosphere when you race in a town or a street course than on an oval. But both disciplines have their charm. So to end up in a situation where you have a mixed championship consisting of ovals and road courses, I think that's a very positive thing.
Q. Looking at the changes the IRL made to the cars over the winter, then we've only had the Buddy Rice incident where he got upside down, when you saw him get upside down, what did that make you think? Did they improve the cars in the direction they needed to go?
KENNY BRACK: Well, the No. 10 car and the No. 15 car seem to have a problem running around each other. I can't really say why and how those things happen. All I know is that when you're traveling at 220 miles an hour, there are risks involved. I mean, anybody can figure that one out. It just depends on how things go. I mean, 95, 99% of all the incidents that happens on an oval, drivers and everybody walks away from uninjured. There's always that chance, that percent or whatever, where you end up on the other side of the coin, which I did, and others have done before me in various series of racing around the world, where you get hurt or even worse. But those things you have to be prepared, as a driver, to take those risks. I know that the organizations - especially the IRL - works very hard at safety. They've come up with a safer wall. They do these changes to cars to try to keep them on the ground, to try to slow them down with smaller engines. And then the teams and the engineers and the engine manufactures, they work the other side of the coin to try to make the most speed out of things. I think the IRL keep a good eye on what's going on and try to keep speeds under control. But, having said all that, there are risks to this type of racing. This type of racing is probably the most risky racing there is, and you got to be aware of it. That's just the nature of this racing.
Q. Didn't you live in Houston those two years?
KENNY BRACK: That's right.
Q. People in Dallas will tell you that's not living in Texas, that's living in Houston.
KENNY BRACK: If you talk to AJ, that is Texas (laughter).
Q. Have you watched any races this year and gone to yourself, "That's crazy stuff you guys are doing out there"? Has it changed at all your perspective, having gone through what you've gone through, then watched some of this high-speed stuff, almost thrill shows that these guys put on sometimes with the side-by-side stuff?
KENNY BRACK: This type of racing, the IRL on the one hand is great for the fans because it's extremely exciting racing. You never know who's going to win. On the one coin you have people that complain about Formula 1 and other type of racing where they say, "There's never any overtaking, dull, boring, every car wins one thing." Then you have the IRL where you have a really, really extremely competitive show, but the downside to it is that you're running close, running wheel-to-wheel. The slightest mistake or a technical malfunction, whatever, you have yourself a wild ride to look forward to before you stop. Like I said earlier, most of the time you walk out of there uninjured. Sometimes you have a few bruises. But there's the one chance that you get hurt real seriously, too. But it really hasn't changed my perspective on it. I have been aware of the risks before I had my accident. I'm as aware of the risks now as I was before. So it hasn't really changed my perspective. I think all the drivers knows the risks that this type of racing means.
Q. When you've been doing that most of your life, suddenly you sit out for a year, are you missing the adrenaline rush of a near-miss, close calls, things like that? Is what you miss the competition part?
KENNY BRACK: I don't think anybody misses the near-miss situations, whatever you call them. I don't think anybody really wants to be in those situations. However, that's the nature of this type of racing, that you're going to run close and it's going to sometimes be closer than you want to. But what I miss is the competition part, is the challenge to try to win races and to work with the team to make the team and the car and that whole environment the best there is. That's what I miss.
Q. Where are you going to test in November? Do y'all know yet? Is it going to be Homestead?
KENNY BRACK: No, I don't think Homestead because that track now is more like a superspeedway, flat out. I want to find out where I'm at physically. Again, I want to go to a track where it's a driver's track where you really have to work hard, put your body through all the toughest possible physical conditions. We haven't decided what track yet, but there will be a track like that.
Q. The Richmond deal, when you left that test, you were competitive in the car time-wise, but was it just you found you did not have the stamina?
KENNY BRACK: It was two things. First of all, before the test, I really thought that I would be okay to drive. I probably would have been okay to drive perhaps at a superspeedway like Michigan, Fontana, Kentucky, where it's not that physical. But after the test there, I just felt that I am not strong enough when it comes to stamina to drive these cars, and strength. Also, the other part was I didn't feel that I was strong enough in my body if something goes wrong and you whack the wall. I mean, you can have a puncture, you can make a mistake. Whatever happens, you whack the wall. You got to really feel strong. The way I've always felt like a cat, I've said this before, but I felt like a cat. You can throw me out the window of the third floor and I will land on my feet, I will be okay. But at that point it felt like I probably won't land on my feet. It felt like I wasn't ready for that type of abuse. You can always argue it's not going to happen. But any driver knows in any type of racing that if you do 15 to 20 races a year, you're going to whack the wall once or twice. There's no way about that. You've just got to be strong enough to deal with those situations. I didn't feel I was at the time.
Q. Talking about places to test, would you be willing to come back to Texas and test?
KENNY BRACK: Well, I could. I could, but it's just that that's the track in the initial part of this thing, it's not the type of track I'm looking for. Again, Texas is a superspeedway where you run flat out all the way around the track. It's not as physical as some of the other tracks, for example, Richmond and the one-mile ovals that the series races on. So the first stage I would probably try to go to a track where I put myself through the toughest possible situation. Maybe you're referring to Texas track in terms of a racing track. But when I'm going to go test, there's not going to be 20 cars around me, so it's not going to be a race environment. It's going to be one car only on the track. If you look at it from that perspective, Texas isn't giving you all the grooving situations that you will have. So in the first instance, I will not go to Texas, I don't think.
Q. You don't have a commitment right now from Rahal, from Bobby, for a full season next year, is that right?
KENNY BRACK: Well, that's correct because nobody knows whether I'm going to be driving yet or not. That makes sense from a team standpoint. That makes sense from a driver standpoint, as well.
Q. Sponsor, too, I suppose?
KENNY BRACK: Yes.
Q. In light of the championship, Tony wrapping it up already, was there any surprise to you that Tony did so well this year?
KENNY BRACK: I think, obviously, I raced against Tony I don't know how many years in CART and all that stuff. He's always been a fierce competitor, very competent driver, competitive. I think the Andretti Green team has tremendous resources, and the biggest component of all is the engine, the Honda engine obviously has been extremely strong this year. So in terms of all that, I think it's logical that Tony turned out to be the strongest competitor for the championship. However, I think that there were other teams and drivers that were nearly as good as him. Dan Wheldon, for example, Buddy Rice, all the teams that had a Honda engine this year really had a chance to fight for the championship. But Tony ended up taking it home and I'm happy for it. He's worth it. He's worked hard and he's a very competitive driver.
Q. I know that you were having a small child right when this all occurred. How does your wife feel about you going back to racing? How have you been able to spend time with your new child this year?
KENNY BRACK: I mean, no bad things for that, it brings something good with it, I think the saying goes. This as well. I've been able to spend a lot of time with our daughter. I've enjoyed it. Hopefully she has, too. So that's been very good. Well, my wife, I guess if she had it her way, maybe she'd prefer me not going back to racing. But she also support my decision and she's behind me whatever I want to do in terms of this. I don't see that that's going to influence a decision.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks so much for letting us take some of your time today. We'll see you this weekend at Texas.
KENNY BRACK: Thanks a lot.
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