Swaddled in a fire suit on a one-mile oval, Swedish-born CART driver Kenny Brack is as cool and calm as an autumn night in Stockholm. But set him on a stage and let him coax raw and raucous sound out of his electric guitar, and he seems to be a Fender-bending madman.
The tour leader at week's end in wins (three, through 11 races), poles (four), top five finishes (five), laps led (472) and points (104—a formidable 22 ahead of his nearest rival, Helio Castroneves) moonlights as lead guitarist for the cover band R.P.M. Sure, the bottle-enhanced blond Brack and his boys perform the obligatory Mustang Sally and Drive My Car at fan fests, but they're also working up a rendition of the Sex Pistols' Anarchy in the U.K. "Kenny's just another in a long line of great Swedish guitarists," says David Letterman, who co-owns Brack's car with 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal. "Like Chuck Berry."
Brack's ability to shift gears from blues to rock to punk mirrors his motor sports versatility. In 1994 the shy, slight road racing specialist joined the F-3000 circuit; two years later he was runner-up in the championship chase. He veered off to the oval-only Indy Racing League in 1997, won the series tide in '98, won the Indianapolis 500 in '99, and then swerved over to CART in 2000. "He's very focused and very intense," Letterman says. "Anybody who's willing to dye his hair like that has to be very committed."
The 35-year-old Brack is also very meticulous. He prepped for his maiden CART race in Long Beach, Calif., last year by walking the two-mile course and taking notes. "Not for 10 or 15 minutes," says Scott Roembke, Team Rahal's chief operating officer. "Kenny was out there for 3� hours!"
Before young Kenny drove his first lap, he drove across a frozen lake on his father's lap. "I was six," he recalls of his initiation in the flyspeck town of Arvika, 500 miles from the Arctic Circle. "There was a rally on the other side of the lake." By eight he was driving his dad's car on his own, and by 12, crashing it on his own. "I hit a rock," he says.
He didn't get into go-karts until the advanced age of 18. Two years later he won the Swedish Junior Formula Ford series, and in '92 he won nine of 10 events on the Renault Clio Scandinavian Championship. Turned off by F-3000 politics and the black flag waved at him for rough driving that caused another driver to crash in the '96 series finale (he drove through that black flag six times and paid a $20,000 fine), he came to the States and landed as an IRL sub for the Galles Racing team in '97. He then drove on A.J. Foyt's team in '98 and '99. The brusque, steak-and-pancakes-loving Foyt and the studious, yogurt-slurping Brack made the oddest of couples. After winning Indy, Brack took a congratulatory call from the king of Sweden, and as he dallied on the line, an increasingly impatient Foyt said, "Tell Kenny the king of Houston is waitin' for him."
Last season Rahal lured Brack to CART. He won no races but wound up fourth in points. Victory eluded him until May 19, in Motegi, Japan, the fourth race of the year. Wins in Milwaukee and Chicago followed.
Brack got ready for the Chicago race by jamming with R.P.M. the night before. The band was formed only four months ago, but it has already had nearly as many members as Spinal Tap, though none of its drummers have spontaneously combusted.
"Well," says Letterman, "it's still early."