Friday, June 6, 2014

Kenny Koretsky - Facing the Fears

Kenny Koretsky sat in the lounge portion of his transporter at Texas Motorplex, relaxing and having a sandwich to calm his nerves.
It has been two years since the horrific accident involving both he and Bruce Allen during the 2005 NHRA Fall Nationals at the Texas Motorplex. But to Koretsky, sitting in his transporter wondering if he would be capable of answering the call to qualify, the incident might has well have been yesterday.
Koretsky returned to part-time driving in 2006 but elected to skip the Motorplex date. He said he just wasn't ready to face the track where he experienced the worst accident of his career, one that sent him away with two broken ribs, a bruised heart, broken right hand, a sore neck and a concussion.
Allen also suffered a concussion and abrasions and promptly retired from drag racing. Koretsky stayed in the game.
However, to truly be back in the game, Koretsky was going to have to open up and face his worst fears not just in his own mind, but in the minds of all those who wanted to know how he was really feeling about that fateful afternoon.
''I try to block the crash out of my mind,'' Koretsky said. ''I've thought about it a few times this week, and asked myself 'why am I even doing this?''
''But all the great fans we have and [his apparel company] NitroFish and NHRA drag racing; I felt that it's just something that I have to do. That's why I came back to do this racing full time this year with Greg Hill and it's been a lot of fun.
''I'll keep driving but with these Friday night sessions, if it doesn't feel right to me at this particular race, or anyone for that matter, then I just won't run, like if it gets real cold out.''
Koretsky said he wouldn't call his condition a form of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, but agreed it's about as close as a drag racer can get to it.
''I don't actually know what you would call it,'' Koretsky mused. ''I think there's something going on where I'm constantly thinking about why myself and Bruce came out without more major problems than we did. I don't know what you would call that but there's no question that I'm thinking that someone was really looking after us.''
Koretsky said he's not the same person that he was before the accident. He added that a person couldn't help but change when subjected to that kind of trauma.
''There are parts of my life that have changed me a lot,'' Koretsky said. ''I actually enjoy life -- everyone knows I enjoyed life before -- but now I really, really enjoy it. I understand that anything can happen, and it doesn't matter if it's on a race track. It kind of puts life's situations in perspective.''
Despite the crash, Koretsky said that he feels the safest on the race track.
''I think I'm safer in a race car than I am driving down I-95 into Philadelphia,'' Koretsky said. ''These cars are safe, the NHRA rules are safe and I believe that Rick Jones, Jerry Haas and Jerry Bickel built great race cars and we're all safe in them. I think it's just a matter of keeping the safety equipment on, the Hahn's Device, the right helmet, and as long as it stays safe I'll keep doing this.''
Koretsky made the decision to return to drag racing last year at the insistence of friends suggesting ''that he had to get back up on the horse.'' He said two of his close friends, Clay Millican and Evan Knoll, were constantly encouraging him to face his fears.
Millican crashed two years ago in Milan, Michigan as then team owner Koretsky watched. He emerged uninjured.
Knoll wasn't as lucky. His accident was on a county road in Michigan in 2004. He struck a tree with his 1,100 horsepower Dodge Viper and suffered a broken ankle and a concussion, an injury that still nags him from time to time.
Their common message was - ''You can beat this.''
Koretsky listened. Not only did he return to competition at the 2006 Lucas Oil Nationals in Brainerd, Minnesota, he also qualified. He admittedly messed up on his first burnout due to lack of practice. He said it's amazing that he even cranked the car when taking into account the flashbacks running through his mind that day.
''What am I doing here in this race car?'' Koretsky said he asked himself. ''I had Dave Northrop there driving a car for me and Mike Thomas did some driving for me. I said to myself, 'why am I doing this?'
''I just didn't want to quit on a crash. I felt I owed it to my fans, I owed it to the Nitro Fish fans, and to myself and my family, that I had to finish my career racing, not on a crash.''
Koretsky said his flashbacks of the incident are limited, but they are enough to raise his level of fear.
''The only thing I remember -- after about 30 or 40 seconds I remember seeing some fire and my butt was getting really hot -- so I thought maybe the car was on fire,'' Koretsky said. ''I couldn't get out the door because it was stuck against the guardrail, the concrete wall. I remember seeing Toni Yates and Jamie Yates; were basically the first people there. I was able to get out through the roof, through the passenger side. Then everything started tightening up and my body was going into some kind of shock from coming to such a sudden stop at such a high speed.''
Koretsky said the adrenalin of the crash temporarily blocked out his injuries. He said he got out of the car and walked around before the pain set in.
''I was able to get out of the car because I thought I was on fire,'' Koretsky said. ''I knew that my hand was broken, I knew that my thumb was broken, I had blood all over me and I knew that there were some isses but the fire actually scared me the most.''
The accident took a matter of seconds, but Koretsky's recovery took six months of grueling rehabilitation.
''For the first 6 month it was hard,'' Koretsky said. ''I really had aches and pains and with the broken ribs it took forever to heal. I still have some problems with my right hand and thumb. I'm actually still having some problems with my teeth cause I must've bit down so hard, even with a mouth guard, I cracked some teeth, I broke some caps.
''I'm gonna have surgery done on a couple of my molars soon after the Dallas race. I was trying to do it when we had a 2 week break between the races and have some teeth replaced that have cracks in them and I believe they are from the accident.''
Koretsky credits a strong supporting cast for the will to keep forging ahead of schedule in the recovery period.
''A lot of doctors and physical therapy and I went to a couple of chiropractors for a couple of months with the deal and they really helped me out,'' Koretsky said. ''I had to go see a neurosurgeon because they thought I had a head injury so I had to go there 3 times. I had to go get checked out before I came back racing cause that's one of the NHRA rules, before you're allowed back in you have to have your full physical and I had to be checked by a neurosurgeon.''
One would think Koretsky would downsize his operation following such a horrendous accident. Those who know the man nicknamed ''Captain Chaos'' by Warren Johnson for his work and racing regimen, laugh at that notion. Koretsky does too.
''I kept everything in full force and actually we're growing in teams now,'' Koretsky said. ''My son, Kyle is in a Super Comp car now, we bought Dave Connolly's actual event winning car, for my son Kyle whos 18 years old. My son Kenny still races the Kenworth trucks and by the way he won the Englishtown Diesel Truck Nationals last weekend in Englishtown. He won class for his truck which is something that we've been trying to do for 5 years and he finally won, he's 21 years old.
''But no, we're moving forward into next year, 2008, we're gonna definitely win in Pro Stock and we're looking at possibly another Top Fuel team as well as adding a Funny Car next year. We're working on some sponsors right now and we're fairly close on a pretty big deal where we can run every professional category.''
With Koretsky's middle son involved in drag racing and headed for a career in Pro Stock, he is quick to point out that he doesn't let the accident dictate whether he can race or not, even if he's involved in a similar mishap.
''I think it would be his choice,'' Koretsky said.
Koretsky's wife Karen, who was battling breast cancer at the time of her husband's accident, might not see things in the same light.
''I guess the scenario would be if he had an accident, when I got home Karen would probably hit me in the head with a baseball bat because she's been telling me that she doesn't want Kyle to drive one of these Pro Stock cars,'' Koretsky said. ''Kyle's a good race car driver and we're in safe vehicles, I don't foresee any major problems with safety in these Pro Stock cars in the future.''
Koretsky said he's always valued life, but the accidents outside of the accident such as Karen's cancer battle and losing close friend ''Big'' Mike Aiello has really put things even more in perspective.
''It's been a weird couple of years,'' said Koretsky. ''We finished in the top 10 in 2004, even though Karen was battling the cancer. She's doing great now and she's back to normal, everything's fine. She had breast reconstruction and her sister right now is battling breast cancer. She's doing great now.
''Then when I was recovering from the accident, I lost my buddy Mike. He was a great source of inspiration considering the physical battles that man had to fight daily. He was my late night partner on the telephone. We talked to each other for a couple of hours a night. Between him and Doug Davenport, I had two phone buddies on the west coast. I definitely miss Mike. Life goes on, we try to do the best we can with what we've got.''
Koretsky says he supports charities such as those formed in the name of Eric Medlen, Darrell Gwynn, Racers for Christ and the Special Olympics just to name a few. He said supporting these charities inspires him and provides a personal purpose.
Earlier this year, Koretsky teamed up with Greg Hill and abandoned his longtime Mopar relationship. He said the accident has inspired him to live life to the edge more often.
''I'm having a lot more fun now,'' said Koretsky. ''I had a lot of fun before the accident but I'm having a lot more fun now because we merged the teams together between KPK Motorsports and Fast Boys Racing, Greg Hill. The fact that we did this merger financially it's been better for Greg and myself. It makes it a little more fun when you don't spend as much of your own money.''
Fun? Yes. Chaotic? Even more so.
''My life is now more chaotic because I have Kid Chaos [Kyle] racing, my middle son, we just have so much going on right now,'' Koretsky said. ''It's really all good, I mean you know I'm a little more focused on race day. Clay Millican has helped me calm down a lot on race day and we're doing a few things. It's nice when Evan Knoll is there helping me, calming me down. It's all about friends and the insiders, ya know our little group, Evan, Clay and Doug Davenport. When you see familiar faces around when your racing it just kind of makes you feel like you're at home a little more.''
Koretsky said he feels at home behind the wheel of a Pro Stocker once again. It wasn't always that way after the crash. He initially didn't want to do the interview with Torco's but changed his mind.
''I had to face the fears,'' Koretsky said, when asked what changed his mind about talking.
Koretsky smiled as he took the last bite of his sandwich. The door opened and it was a crew man telling him it was time to head for the staging lanes.
''It's show time,'' Koretsky said. ''It's time to beat this thing.''
And he did. Not only did he run quick enough to make the field, he faced his fears and won.

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