Minutes after Kenny Brack won the Indianapolis 500 in 1999, he entered a small modular building that served as a temporary interview room. He carried a flip phone slightly smaller than a breadbox, which rang just as he opened the door and stepped inside.
The caller was Carl XVI Gustaf, the king of Sweden. Brack’s post-race press conference was delayed a moment while he accepted congratulations. His face reflected wonder, his response nearly speechless. As congratulatory phone calls go, it was beyond impressive.
Twenty years later, that moment has been paid forward. The genesis of what’s happening now at Chip Ganassi Racing was born from that scene and that conversation. Marcus Ericsson has joined fellow Swede Felix Rosenqvist to form an imposing three-car lineup at CGR, and it has Kenny Brack written all over it.
“Kenny is the one who took me from go-karts to cars,” Ericsson explained in May before the 103rd Indy 500 in May. “He was my manager from the time I was 15 until about 21. We spent about six or seven years together. He’s one of the reasons I’m here today. Without him and that moment in my career, I never would’ve made the step from go-karts to racing cars.”
For the uninitiated, Brack is a rock star. Quite literally. His widely cultivated life includes a run as the frontman for several rock bands, but that’s just a sidebar in his life story. After winning the Indy Racing League championship in 1998 and Indy in ‘99, he survived a crash at Texas Motor Speedway in 2003 that left him with severe foot injuries, a spinal fracture, a broken sternum and a broken leg. He spent three months in a hospital, but returned to racing at the 2005 Indy 500.
After retiring, Brack began coaching and managing young drivers. In 2009, he came out of retirement to win the rally gold medal at the X Games. He didn’t stop there, competing in select rally and vintage events. His run in a GT40 at Goodwood in 2013 is legendary. Brack is, plainly put, a racing renaissance man.
But it was a race in May 1999 -- and many others like it -- that made an impression on a kid watching on television from 4,000 miles away.
“I remember watching him with my dad on Sunday nights, which were always IndyCar nights on Swedish television,” Ericsson recalled. “I would sit there with my dad and watch Kenny race in America. That was really cool.”
What was cool eventually became a professional relationship, with Brack steering young Marcus’ progression. And what a progression it was. Ericsson went from Formula BMW to F3 to GP2 and eventually to Formula One, where he raced for five seasons before joining Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for the 2019 IndyCar season.
All of which led to last week’s announcement. With Ganassi’s team, Ericsson will have access to invaluable human resources -- namely five-time champion Scott Dixon and four-time champion Dario Franchitti, the team’s driving coach.
He’ll also have Rosenqvist. They were IndyCar rookies in 2019, but they’re hardly newbies. Ericsson is 29, Rosenqvist 27. They’re firmly established as first-rate talents, and both are fans of the guy who made Sweden proud 20 years ago. Like Ericsson, Rosenqvist remembers watching the 1999 Indy 500 and the aftermath of Brack’s triumph.
“I don’t think I watched the whole race,” Rosenqvist recalled in May. “It was pretty late, and I was like 8 years old. I went to bed. But then I saw Kenny drinking the milk on the news the day after. He told everyone he’d been practicing to drink the milk the whole month. It was a big deal. My dad and I watched Kenny a lot when I was growing up. He was my introduction to motorsport.”
And, in a roundabout way, Brack was Ericsson’s introduction to a king.
“The king is a big motorsport fan,” Ericsson said. “He’s been my guest at quite a few F1 races, as well. I spoke to him last winter about coming to the Indy 500, but it didn’t work out. Hopefully in the future he’ll be able to do it.”
With any luck, the post-race congratulations won’t require a phone.