By Damian Dottore

The Orange County Register

INDIANAPOLIS – It was the kind of crash that can make you believe in miracles.

As Kenny Brack and Tomas Scheckter were racing side by side with 12 laps to go in the IRL season finale at Texas Motor Speedway, they bumped into each other while speeding into Turn 3 at close to 220 mph.

Brack’s car went airborne, flipping and spinning until it slammed into the catch fence, disintegrating on contact.

The impact registered a bone-jarring 193Gs on the car’s onboard computer.

The tub, the part of the chassis into which Brack was strapped, landed upside down and turned into a multicolor blur as it spun like a top down the track.

One of the wheels from Brack’s car was planted between the fence and the concrete retaining wall. Somehow, Brack survived, but he was badly broken. He suffered fractures to his L-3 vertebra, right femur and sternum. Both of his ankles were crushed and needed to be reconstructed.

There was a time when Brack’s doctors didn’t know if he would ever be able to drive an Indy car again. But he never gave up hope.

Ironically, it took another crash to put him back in action.

During practice at Indianapolis on May 11, Buddy Rice, who replaced Brack after that terrifying crash in Texas, slammed into the SAFER barrier in Turn 2 and partially tore a spinal ligament in his neck. Dr. Henry Bock, the IRL’s senior director of medical services, would not clear Rice, the defending Indy 500 champion, to drive in Sunday’s race.

Brack, who had no intentions of racing at Indy this year, said he was kicking back in an easy chair in his Columbus, Ohio, home when Bobby Rahal, the co-owner of Rice’s Honda-powered Panoz, called. It didn’t take him long to tell Rahal yes.

This past Saturday, Brack turned in the fastest qualifying speed for Sunday’s Indianapolis 500, his first Indy-car race since his brush with death. He averaged 227.598 mph during his four laps on the clocks, which was slightly quicker than Tony Kanaan’s pole-winning run at 227.566 mph. Brack will start 23rd because the top 22 starting positions were locked in on the Pole Day, the first day of qualifications, on May 15.

“I don’t think a Hollywood producer could come up with a better script than that,” Brack, 39, said.

“It has been a long, hard road to get back here.”

Brack spent three months in the hospital and lost 35 pounds. He developed a couple of complications, which he said added approximately two months to his recovery. A blood clot formed in his left lung, but it went undiscovered until he had trouble breathing one day. And he had to have his gall bladder removed, one of the eight operations he had after that devastating crash.

Regarding the latter complication, he said being in the hospital wasn’t so bad because that is when Anita, Brack’s wife, delivered Karma, the couple’s first child. An hour after delivery, Anita took the elevator up two floors to show Brack his new daughter. For a while, he said his wife was “stuck with twins.”

But now that he’s back, is Brack really ready for 500 miles of 220-plus mph racing?

“I have no doubt that he can do it,” Rahal said. “When we found out that Buddy (Rice) wouldn’t be able to go in the 500, Kenny was the first driver that I thought of.”

Brack, the 1998 IRL champion and 1999 Indy 500 winner, competed in a Porsche Cup race in his native Sweden last year and broke the all-time, single-lap track record.

About six months after he was released from the hospital for the last time, Brack tested an Indy car with Rahal Letterman Racing at Richmond International Raceway, a three-quarter-mile bullring. After just 15 laps, he was running one-tenth of a second off of the track record.

He said, however, that he didn’t have the endurance to compete. So since then, he “has been pounding himself in the gym.” He said he’s in the best shape of his life.

“I couldn’t think of anyone who was more deserving, and I couldn’t think of a better person to put in the car,” said Rice, who expects to get back in his car at Texas Motor Speedway on June 11, which could mean Brack will be unemployed again. “I knew it wouldn’t take him long to get up to speed, and I know he is in a car that is good enough to give him his second 500 victory.”

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