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Team Rahal press conference
Bobby Rahal, Kenny Brack, Buddy Rice
May 18,  2005

Kenny Brack

MODERATOR: Good morning. We'll get started right away because this team has a lot of work yet to do today.

There is not a team in the Gasoline Alley garage area that has made more headlines this month than the team that's sitting up here right now. Most of the headlines I'm sure they wanted; some of the others unfortunately they did not. But they have been the team this year as the defending winning team. They came in with already a lot of attention.

They have another announcement here to make this morning. Here to do that is Bobby Rahal.

BOBBY RAHAL: Thank you. Well, I guess, no surprise, we are very disappointed in finding out that Buddy would not be cleared, and we understand fully why. Certainly we support the doctors' decision, and we feel very badly for Buddy. As a driver, you know what it means to get your focus, you dream of winning this race, let alone winning it again or repeating it. I know he's extremely disappointed and we're disappointed for him. However, we had to go forward.

I just thought it's somehow right that I called my friend Mr. Brack up and asked if he'd be ready to fill in. The obvious sign is that he was ready to fill in. We're very anxious and excited to have Kenny back driving our car. I think that was one of the key factors, was we wanted to have someone come in who would be as competitive as Buddy, who had experience with our team before, and who we felt would work with the other two drivers, Danica and Vitor, in making sure we had three equally competitive cars come Race Day.

I'm very pleased to welcome Kenny back in the fold. As I say, the circumstances aren't necessarily the best for any of us, but I know he'll do a great job for us. Thank you.

MODERATOR: We'll get a short comment from Buddy and Kenny, then we'll open it up for questions from the media.

Buddy, you've been a great champion for the Indianapolis 500. You can sense the frustration in your statement yesterday. Just talk about the decision-making process, what you'll be doing the rest of the month.

BUDDY RICE: Well, the decision, I mean, it was made the other day with the doctors, what we had to go through. We knew what, you know, the circumstances were. They knew there was a fairly substantial hit, but at the time obviously we didn't think it was going to come out this way.

I couldn't think of someone that was more deserving and couldn't think of a better person to put in the car. Because I had to come in on I guess adverse situations, when I had to take in - 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. Granted, he's not going to start where he wants to, but I don't think it will take him very long to get up to speed, and he'll be in a car that will give him another shot at trying to win the Indy 500 again.

It was extremely difficult last year to come in. He was a huge supporter. He was there all year. He was a big help to everything that happened last year. So I'm extremely happy that he's in the car, gets another shot.

I'm not going anywhere for the month. I'll be here all month long to do whatever I can to help the team out. Hopefully at the end of the month I'll get cleared and we'll get back at Texas, cruising back along like we're supposed to do.

For right now, we need to do what's best for the team, what's best for the other two drivers and all of our sponsors, and that's to put Kenny in the seat. I'm extremely happy for him.

MODERATOR: It's time to welcome back the 1999 winner of the Indianapolis 500. Kenny, your initial comments on your return.

BRACK: Well, I got a little surprise when I had the call, I must say, because, you know, I followed - I followed the 500 from home. But I thought Buddy would be OK. You know, I really did think he was going to drive. Monday night I got the call from these guys.

You know, I got to thank the team because I've been with this team for a long time. They've been very supportive to me. It feels like, although I haven't driven for them this year, I never really left, because we're still going out to lunches, I mean, the workshop and stuff like that. That was a big part of this decision to fill for Buddy.

For me, I feel ready. But, you know, to come into this situation like this is obviously a little more challenging than being around for the whole month and all that. But I felt that knowing the team and knowing the players here and we've done great things together, it's a lot more easy.

I feel sorry for Buddy. Of course, I kind of know how he feels like about this. But luckily he's not going to be out for very long. I'm going to try to do a good job for him in this situation, and for the team. So I want to thank Bobby, of course, and Dave Letterman, Scott Roembke, all the guys at the team for passing this opportunity.

MODERATOR: We will open it up for questions from the media.

Q: Kenny, can you just talk a little bit about your physical situation. I know you tested in a car in Richmond last year, you weren't too thrilled about it. How do you feel now as far as that goes?

BRACK: Well, I mean, I was quite fast actually. We were only 1/10th off the lap record, so I think that was pretty good. But I didn't feel that I was physically fit to drive the Richmond race because that's one of the most physical races. That was obviously only five, six - well, six months when I got out of the hospital and started my rehab program. When I got out of the hospital, I was in a wheelchair, so you can imagine what a strain that was.

Now it's one and a half years later. I've been working out very hard. I'm back to the same physical condition as I was before the crash because I have been basically pounding myself in the gym ever since I got out of the hospital. So I feel physically very good.

Q: Buddy, all the highs that you've experienced in the year since you left here, after winning the race last year, can you maybe take us back to that minute that Dr. Bock looked you in the eye and said, "I'm sorry, you're not going to be able to race," what your emotions were at that time.

RICE: Well, the first question, I mean, the first question was: Is there anything we can do to speed this recovery up or make it happen, maybe not necessarily to come back for the Speedway but even to get ready for Texas? With whatever the situation was, that's just - you know, we've discussed that. We know what we have to do to get prepared for Texas.

But, I mean, I guess my first thought was, it's a huge letdown to the team and all the sponsors. That's my first concern. I mean, those people are the ones that helped me get to where I was at. They gave me the mark last year of winning the 500. That was the first thing I thought of.

To not be able to come back and defend, especially when you know the car is sitting in there, it's capable of sitting on the front row if not the pole again, and it's a car that's capable of winning. There's two other cars sitting in that same stable that can do the same thing. So hopefully it's just, you know, we keep it in-house, we keep it in the family, and it all works. But it's just extremely disappointing. There's not a whole lot more you can do about it. It's just the way it is.

Q: Kenny, is it a tad surreal to be sitting there in that suit sliding back into the 15 car, racing in the 500 this year?

BRACK: Well, you know, I don't think a Hollywood film producer could have come up with a script better than this one. I really - you know, having Buddy replace me and then be coming back to replace him, yeah, it's a little strange.

But, you know, like I said, I believe that it happened for a reason perhaps, and we'll see how it goes. But I think that, like Buddy says, the car is obviously very fast, the team is great. These are the guys that I used to work with, you know, with Team Rahal for years. I feel very comfortable in this situation, although coming in a little late. But I already know the team very well. You know, it should be - that part of it should be fine.

Q: Kenny, I'm wondering if this hadn't happened, how close were you to getting in a car, driving on a regular basis right now?

BRACK: Well, in IndyCars, not that close, because I tried in the beginning of the year to look at options to go to the 500. But it had to be a competitive situation, something I believed had one of the - a shot to win the race. It would be no point for me coming back unless I felt I was in a situation where I could be really competitive. Unfortunately, there was none out there at that time.

I wasn't really, you know, counting on anything. I don't know, like I said, this thing happened. Had this happened with another team that I wouldn't have known, I probably wouldn't have been here because I want to feel that I have a really - an opportunity to do well.

And I feel with all the pieces, although I come in late, but with Team Rahal, with Bobby, Dave and Scott and all the guys, and plus Buddy here, he said he was going to help me, you know, tell me how he did it last year (laughter), I feel like there's a lot of things here that are really, really good. That's the way it happened. So here I am.

Had it not happened, I wouldn't have been here. Would I have had a ride for the rest the season? Probably not. I don't think I will in this situation, either, but maybe I would have raced something else, who knows.

Q: Kenny, if you could talk about what could happen beyond this race, I mean, what kind of opportunities opened up for you now. And, Bobby, talk about any consideration to expanding this team to a four-car effort.

BRACK: Well, from my part, I think we're going to look at this as I'm here to do the best job I can for my friends at Team Rahal Letterman. That's the thing we will do.

And for the future, you know, just like this situation, I don't think you can predict the future. But that's the situation right now. I'm sure Buddy will come back here, you know, after Indy, and I will wish him all the best to go on and try to win races in the championship.

RAHAL: I think in terms of the team, I don't think we're in a position to run four cars. But I think we'll reserve judgment and we'll - we've got a pretty big job to do from now till the end of this month. We'll see what happens after that.

I think as a team, we have to make sure that Buddy gets back to health ASAP so that he is ready for Texas, and we have to make sure that we give maximum effort to Kenny, Danica and Vitor. You know, we'll see what happens after Memorial Day. Running four cars, I'm not sure that's in our - that's in the cards, as they say, but we'll see.

Q: Bob, you came here with three cars ready to go. Any key personnel switches because of this situation?

RAHAL: No, no, nothing.

Q: If Kenny is not in physical shape he probably is but if for some reason he isn't, do you have a backup plan?

RAHAL: Then I'm going to qualify if he doesn't (laughter). That's how likely it will be that he won't be able to do the job. I'm pretty confident to say I'll come out of retirement if that's the case, so you better - this isn't April Fools (laughter).

No, I mean, I think - I know Kenny. As Kenny was saying, we spend time together. He and Scotty spend a lot of time together back in Columbus having lunch and talking about things. We talked about trying to put together an effort earlier this year for Kenny.

Kenny is all business always has been and I think always will be. A, I know he wouldn't - if he wasn't ready for this, he wouldn't be here. And I am completely confident that he'll get in that car and there will be a little bit of rust in the seat when he gets out after the first hour, but it will be gone. It's up to us as a team to make sure that we give him - you know, we make it as easy and speedy as possible for him to do that.

Yeah, I think we're pretty confident that he'll be there on Race Day.

Q: Bob, your team has been at the center of attention for the last couple weeks. I'm sure it's been a very emotional time. How have you and Scott Roembke kept everyone focused and motivated in a tough time?

RAHAL: I was going to say, there's been some good ways we've garnered some publicity and some not necessarily good ways. You know, I think it has been demanding on everybody, but I think we've tried to organize it. I know Scott and I probably haven't been the most popular with Tom Blattler or Brent (Maurer) in terms of trying to create some sense of discipline and schedule, especially for Danica. Poor Vitor, he's had a pretty easy month (laughter).

I mean, you know, you've just got to be prepared. I think the guys, the engineers, everybody, you know, for them to stay focused I think has been not easy, but I think everybody's just - you know, they understand what the job is at hand.

While we didn't have quite the publicity last year that we've had this year, I think that we're still managing to handle it all and to go forward. And I look forward to the next several days, both for Kenny and also for Danica and Vitor, as we further develop race setups and what have you.

Q: Kenny, what is your wife's reaction and friends, family? Are they supportive? Are they a little tentative?

BRACK: Well, I mean, I haven't really talked to a lot of my friends because, you know, you've been busy with putting this thing, you know, making seats and stuff. I haven't had that much time.

But my wife is supportive of the decision. She's always standing behind. She knows I'm a racer, and she knows that I've always wanted to come back to this kind of racing if there would be a competitive opportunity out there. So I don't think it was a complete surprise, although, you know, she might have gotten used to the fact that I wasn't doing this kind of stuff any more.

But, you know, like I said, this happened for a reason, I believe. I know the team is very, very good, and they've got all the right stuff, the Honda engine. Honda has been very supportive of this decision and everybody. So I feel very comfortable about this. I think she feels that it's the right thing.

Q: Bob, did you consider anybody else before you called Kenny? Were there any other drivers in your thoughts or it was just a matter of this is the guy I'm going to go with right away? How does the Indianapolis 500 compare to other races as far as physically demanding?

RAHAL: On the part that I can answer, Kenny was our first choice. There were certainly other people that we thought of, but those people were only thought of in terms of following his answer. He was No. 1 in our minds.

BRACK: Well, from my perspective, I think that - physically, I don't think it's one of the most physically demanding races, although it's a long race, so you've got to be very well-prepared. But mentally it's a tough one. I mean, it's a long race, and there's a lot of things that happens from day to day, the car change, setup changes, weather changes. So it's physically very draining. That gets to you physically after a while because you feel very tired.

For me in this situation, it might be a little extra mental because, obviously, coming into this, not having driven for a while, you got to get your game face on. But I feel confident in this situation, like I said. That's my take on it.

Q: Kenny, you have remained living in Columbus all the way through. How fast did you say yes Monday night?

BRACK: Well, you know, I was joking -

RAHAL: Kenny only drives fast (laughter).

BRACK: I was joking with these guys, saying here I am sitting at home with a margarita in one hand, then they call (laughter).

I made quite a quick decision. Obviously, you can look at this in many different ways. But, you know, in the end you've got to do what's right in your heart, what you feel doing, and this is what I feel doing. And I believe that this all happens for reasons. I don't know why. It's kind of a twisted little thing, I don't know.

Q: Kenny, there was always the sense that you'd come back to racing in some capacity. Did you have a timetable in mind about when you would return here? Did you ever think about how long it would take?

BRACK: I think when you get injured, I think that it's your natural instinct to want to get back a little sooner than you probably can. I think when I did the test in Richmond last year, I guess I might have thought I was ready, and I wasn't physically fit at that time. But I have been working relentlessly in the gym and workouts and stuff like that. Obviously, I didn't need to do that just to be back walking the streets like a private person. I did it because I wanted to get back in race trim. Even if I didn't have a ride, I really want to get back to that kind of fitness.

I guess had this opportunity came about, and I wouldn't have done all that work, I couldn't have done it because I wouldn't have been fit enough, and I feel I am fit enough.

MODERATOR: The team has informed us that they will make Kenny available this afternoon after he has turned in some laps. We'll get that information out. Last question for Kenny and then we will release him.

Q: Kenny, have you had time to do your reporting duties back to Sweden like you usually do?

BRACK: No, I haven't had time to do anything. The only thing right now for me is to focus on what I need to be doing here. The rest of the stuff will have to take care of itself. I'm sure it will.

Thanks, guys.

Q: Buddy, how tough is it to be a cheerleader?

RICE: I mean, it's not the easiest thing. It's like I said earlier, it's what is best for the team, best for the other two drivers, it's what is best for our sponsors. Hopefully I'll be more than just a cheerleader. Hopefully I'll be some sort of a participant within the group. We'll just have to wait and see.

The other two cars have been going about their business in a certain way, obviously before the accident and since the accident. Now with Kenny coming in, there will be some sort of help or whatever I need to do there to speed that process up.

But, I mean, you keep going back to the test at Richmond. It took him all of 15 laps at the most physically demanding track that we run on, and he was flat and ran times that were more than competitive enough. Speeds were not an issue there. So obviously he had a little bit of some endurance things he wanted to work on, he's been working on it since then.

I think, you know, I'll just help out any way I can and just try to be an intricate part of trying to help all three cars and our sponsors and everybody doing what the job is we came here to do.

Q: Bob, you turned a lot of laps at this track. How important is the emergence of the SAFER Barrier for extending drivers' careers?

RAHAL: Well, I think that not just here but anywhere, I think it's probably had a tremendous effect. You know, I would hate to think what would have been the case had it not been there. Even then, you know, the angle that Buddy went in was so severe, there's only so much you can ask of that. That probably can't do everything, but it sure comes close.

When you look, frankly, the damage to the car, it was less than we thought it would be given the speed and the Gs and everything else that it hit at.

It's obviously got a very positive effect. The best thing to extend a driver's career is not hit anything. But if you're going - if you have the misfortune of getting into the fence, at least with the SAFER Barrier, that goes a long way to protecting the drivers.

Q: Bobby, when you considered Kenny for this situation, what convinced you he was ready right now?

RAHAL: Kenny, he's been testing other cars. He's been talking to us. It's no secret we've been talking about going sports car racing. Kenny is saying, "Geez, you know, that sounds interesting." He went down to Australia to test one of those Australian V8 touring cars. Kenny drove Porsches in Sweden in the Porsche Cup races, so he wasn't retired from racing.

I think for us we certainly would have had Kenny in a car if the sponsorship was there or what have you. 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.

But, as I said, when Scott and I got an inkling of the possibilities of Buddy not being cleared, you know, Kenny was - I mean, there wasn't - it wasn't even close between him and anybody else. I mean, it was Kenny, Kenny, Kenny, then depending on what he would say.

As I said, Kenny, he only drives fast. He's always very methodical in his thoughts about anything he undertakes. So that's why I know he's ready to do this. And I know that he's committed to it, and I know he's coming here to try to win. He's not coming here just to cruise around, I can assure you.

As I say, we always felt he was ready to go. It was just a matter of whether there was an opportunity or not. Unfortunately for Buddy, the opportunity presented itself. But people also forget, as Buddy mentioned a little bit earlier, Kenny was at a lot of the races with us. He was always ready to help Buddy in particular. But he was always there with observations and what have you. So he's been a part of our team in a lot of ways, even though he's not been actually driving the car.

MODERATOR: Bobby, Buddy, thank you for taking the time this morning.

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