By John Bombatch
INDIANAPOLIS — For IndyCar Series race driver Graham Rahal, the 2015 racing season was his most successful by far. That success has helped the 27-year-old to appreciate his dad Bobby Rahal’s auto racing success just that much more.
Rahal said he never really felt different growing up as the son of an Indy 500 winner, or the son of a three-time CART Series champion. It was just something that was always a part of his life growing up.
“The thing is, you grow up around it. You’re part of it. People say, ‘How did you realize that your dad was someone special?’ Well, I mean, truthfully, I don’t know that you ever really appreciated all that he’s accomplished until you’re trying to do it yourself,” Graham Rahal said during the IndyCar Series’ media day press conferences on Feb. 2 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“All of a sudden, you get put into this position and you have good years, you have bad years,” Rahal said. “The pressures that go along with it. You realize, Dad did this, he achieved that, won Indy, Daytona, Sebring. You know how hard that is to accomplish. You don’t appreciate that until you’re there trying to do it yourself.”
Bobby Rahal had 24 career wins in Indycar racing. He’s won at Daytona, won Indy, claimed the Championship Auto Racing Teams season title three times, and is in the International Motorsports, Motorsports of America, SCCA and Indianapolis Motor Speedway halls of fame.
His son, Graham has raced primarily in the IndyCar Series for the past nine years now (one of those being in the ChampCar Series), and he has three career wins in 148 starts. He won in 2008 on the street course in St. Petersburg, Florida, then went nearly seven years without another series win.
Last season saw Rahal claim wins at Fontana, and at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, a circuit that the Ohio-based Rahal family has claimed as its home track ever since Bobby dominated there in SCCA, sports car and Indycar events in the 1970s and ’80s.
Asked to tell about which of last season’s wins were the biggest, Rahal, who recently married NHRA top fuel Funny Car sensation Courtney Force, had to be careful with his words.
“I think Fontana was more of a relief to finally get that whole second win thing,” he said. “I was so sick of answering questions about it. For so many years, I don’t know of my 20 podium (finishes) or whatever I had, I finished second 15 times. I was always close but never seemingly could get that second win.
“Fontana relieved that pressure, but Mid-Ohio was the greatest — I’m in front of media, so I have to be careful, with Courtney — but it was the greatest single day of my life.”
That August 2 win in Lexington was also special because Graham’s parents and family were all on hand. Bobby was pitside as Graham drives the Steak & Shake-sponsored Honda Dallara machine for Hilliard-based Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, which Bobby Rahal co-owns with retired talkshow host David Letterman and businessman Mike Lanigan.
For the Mid-Ohio race, Graham wore a special racing helmet that looked like the Ohio State Buckeyes football helmet, complete with Buckeye leaves.
“For me, to do a Buckeye helmet, Honda being right there, being home. It was the first time, I think, ever in my career that my whole family was at the track together, my siblings, mom (Debi) and dad and everybody. To have a day like that was a dream come true,” Rahal said.
With the 2016 running of the famed Indianapolis 500 being the 100th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, Rahal has another dream he’d like to see come true in May. And the number 30 has an ongoing theme in the Rahal family as well.
“For me, the Indy 500 is the race that transformed the Rahal name forever in 1986, and that was 30 years ago,” Rahal said. Graham Rahal won the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona endurance auto race 30 years after Bobby Rahal had turned the same feat. Graham won the SCCA National Championship Runoffs in the Formula Atlantic class some 30 years after his dad won in the same category.
“So to win (Indy) 30 years after that. … I hope that tradition continues,” he said.
The IndyCar Series gets under way March 13 with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and will be shown on ABC television.
John Bombatch can be reached at (937) 372-4444, Ext. 2123.