The 2021 Indycar season is slowly coming upon us. There seems to be a Swedish connection with Indycar racing and it has been going on for quite some time. Indycar racing has long had connections with foreign race car drivers. The very first Indianapolis 500, then known as the Indianapolis 500-Mile Sweepstakes, had three foreign born drivers in the event. French driver Jules Goux was the first foreign born driver to win the 500 in 1913. He was followed the next year by the Frenchman Rene’ Thomas.
By the time the 1950’s rolled around the Indianapolis cars were mostly piloted by those born in America. Those that came up through the bullrings of America’s dirt tracks racing sprints and midgets. That slowly began to change in the 1960’s. Formula One greats Jack Brabham, Jackie Stewart, Jim Clark, and Graham Hill all visited Indianapolis.
Foreign drivers were a rare occurrence into the 1970’s as well. Save for Bruce McLaren and David Hobbs. It really wasn’t until the 1980’s that Indycar racing experienced a foreign invasion of sorts- many former Formula One drivers.
By the early 1990’s with Indycar’s star was on the rise. It was a nice alternative to Formula One and the racing was a much better on track product. The first Swede to come try his hand at Indycar was former Ferrari F1 driver Stefan Johannson in 1992. He would see some mild success with Tony Bettenhausen Racing. He was the 1992 Indycar Rookie-of-the-Year had four podium finishes. Victory lane would elude him though, and he was out of Indycar by the end of the 1996 season.
Fredrik Ekblom had a few Indycar starts in the mid-90’s as did Niclas Jonsson in the early 2000’s. These two would only make a handful of starts and neither driver competed at the Indianapolis 500.
There was one Swede who moved the Indycar needle on both sides of the open wheel split that occurred in Indycar between 1996 and 2008. Unknown driver Kenny Bräck made a quiet IRL debut with Galles Racing at Phoenix in 1997. By the start of the 1998 season Bräck had signed to drive for A.J. Foyt. By the end of the year Bräck would be an IRL Champion earning three victories that year. He’d finish second in the championship in 1999 with only one win. That win happened to come in dramatic fashion at the Indianapolis 500 giving team owner AJ Foyt five Indianapolis 500 victories.
It was at the beginning of the millennium that Bräck would jump to the rival CART series signing with Bobby Rahal. He’d see success as well against the deeper talent pool that the CART series had to offer. Over his three-year CART stint Bräck had five career wins and finished second in the championship in 2001 to Gil de Ferran.
Bräck would go back to the IRL in 2002 while driving for Chip Ganassi Racing. While again driving for Bobby Rahal he had an almost career ending injury at Texas in 2003. He’d sit out in 2004 and only made one more Indycar start in 2005. Bräck would fill in for the injured Buddy Rice and post the fastest speed in the field. He would start in 23rd and finish a lackluster 26th with mechanical issues.
Bräck career wasn’t long in Indycar, but he was one of the few to make an impact on both sides of the open wheel civil war which was at its peak at the time. He will forever be an ambassador to motorsports and also respected as an Indycar Champion and Indy 500 winner.