CARSON, Calif. – There was an audible gasp when the highlight was shown.
And then another.
And yet another.
The fans here at the Home Depot Center for the Summer X Games weren't seeing footage of a skateboarder taking a nasty spill, nor were they watching a Moto X trick gone awry.
No, it was a big-screen version of Kenny Brack's horrific wreck during the 2003 IRL season finale that stunned this crowd.
Understand that this is an audience used to seeing painful falls and sometimes gruesome breaks. And for action sports athletes, well, saying that danger is part of the allure is grossly overstating it, but daring and thriving in the face of that danger does provide a rush for competitors and fans alike.
Which makes one take notice when these people are left with mouths agape by an athlete's misfortune.
Brack's wreck – in which his car was obliterated after becoming airborne and smashing into the catch fence at Texas Motor Speedway – was shown immediately before the final run of the Rally Car Racing Super Special, which pitted Brack against fan-favorite and defending event gold-medalist Travis Pastrana.
The ultra-talented and seemingly fearless Pastrana – NASCAR fans, think Kyle Busch's aggression and preternatural talent, but without the attitude – is no stranger to remarkable tricks, spectacular spills and broken bones … including concussions, a broken back, dislocated shoulders, injured arms and elbows, torn ligaments and a coma-inducing fall that separated his spine from his pelvis.
Though here he was Friday, attempting – and failing – to complete an extraordinarily difficult backflip/360-degree rotation combo in Moto X Best Trick three years after becoming the first to execute a double back flip in that event. Indeed, Pastrana hurt himself Friday, though not seriously, in falling during his first and only attempt at the trick.
Brack, who suffered a broken sternum, two broken ribs, a broken vertebrae in his back, a broken right femur and two broken ankles in his '03 wreck, admitted over the weekend that auto racing never will be completely safe. Improvements are made, but the risk of serious injury always is there.
The same goes for many of the "extreme" sports in which Pastrana thrives; he also spends a good bulk of his time behind the wheel of a rally car.
So maybe these two have more in common than one would expect to find between a retired, 43-year-old family man from Sweden who plays in a rock band and a 25-year-old X Games legend who refuses to stop pushing the envelope – or himself. Maybe, like so many other action sport athletes and professional race car drivers, they can't resist the thrill that comes from these sorts of competition.
Maybe that's why Brack pushed himself through 18 months of rehab before making it back to the IndyCar Series for one more start, choosing the sport's marquee event – the 2005 Indy 500 – despite Indianapolis Motor Speedway being a difficult and often dangerous circuit to drive. And maybe that's why Pastrana keeps coming back from his numerous injuries, why he decides to attempt a dangerous trick here after sitting that specific competition out the previous two years.
It also helps explain why Brack, the 1999 Indy 500 winner who had hung up his helmet to focus on family and his own driver development program, was lured out of retirement for these X Games.
So here Pastrana and Brack were in the event final, lined up on opposite sides of the dirt portion of this rally course that includes tight turns and a jump within the Home Depot Center stadium and a road course-like circuit outside and around it. The race was close early despite Brack's bumper dangling from the back of his Ford Fiesta, but Pastrana admittedly pushed too hard to keep up with Brack and crashed into a wall.
Kenny Brack, mostly-retired racer and X Games rookie, took the gold.
And just minutes after watching his open-wheel machine disintegrate in one of the worst wrecks in recent racing history, these fans yelled and screamed as Brack jumped on top of his car and raised his arms in triumph.
"It was fantastic to come back to the States this way," said Brack, who now calls London home. "It's a fun event."
To the States wasn't the only comeback he made Sunday. And while Brack says he has no plans to continue his un-retirement, he didn't completely rule out what would seem at the moment to be an unlikely return to X Games to defend his gold.
Because some of these guys, they just can't stay away.
- Kenny Brack
- Travis Pastrana