At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, there are names that are synonymous with the most famed race track in the world.
One name that can be filed into that group is Bobby Rahal. While only winning one Indianapolis 500 in 1986, Rahal has been a winning owner at the speedway and perhaps no other driver on his team, past and present, has held more significance than his 24-year old son Graham Rahal.
And you don’t need to tell him twice how important Indianapolis is with that last name.
“Obviously with the family there’s a lot of heritage and tradition with our name at Indianapolis … Dad being a winner means a lot, our name at Indy is synonymous with success. That’s the same thing I’d like to do, winning the 500, it’s ultimately what we’d like to do. Indy is powerful. It’s a special place so to win this race would elevate my career and life to whole new level.”
As it would for anyone, winning the Indianapolis 500 forever places your name with racing’s immortals. As a young driver, though, it’s a learning process. What better way to learn than with Bobby Rahal as your owner, mentor and most of all, your father?
“The best advice dad gave me was to enjoy myself. The truth is if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing you shouldn’t be doing it … There’s so many pieces of advice, track-to-track, weekend-to-weekend so having him as team owner to rely on is great. It makes life a lot easier in many aspects.”
While Graham tries to find his way in the sport that his dad helped make iconic through the 80’s and early 90’s, he realizes that there is a lot that has to be done off the track as just as much as there is on the track. The sport has taken its hits and limped through its strides over the past 17 years trying to compete with NASCAR and other sports as open-wheel racing has fallen from popularity.
“I certainly feel like I could help bring the popularity back … I don’t worry about having 100,000 people there to watch qualifying and the race. Our at-track attendance is pretty good but the TV ratings are a big concern. Fuzzy’s vodka and Blue cig, those sorts of sponsors can really make a difference increasing TV ratings.”
Filling the seats at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is harder than it was when his dad was turning laps around the 2.5 mile oval. Indiana native Robin Miller, who worked for the Indianapolis Star and now does work for the SPEED Channel, has suggested for a few years that the track cut the month of May down to a one-week event to save money and draw more attendance by cramming everything into a few days. Rahal begs to differ.
“I read Robin’s article and I told him to his face I don’t agree with Indy in one week because there’s so much pressure associated with the race already plus we need all the publicity we can get … Personally, I think we need to get rid of Brazil and make the month longer. We don’t need to be on the track every day. We need to increase the events like golf outings and parties downtown to get the drivers with the fans. Right now we come in and it’s a rush for us. We are constantly working every day and it makes it more difficult. It is so stressful.”
Perhaps we will see Miller’s suggestions come to fruition. I am one to side with Rahal, however. The month of May and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway mean a lot to me — so much that there is no way I could see it trimmed down to one week. As for Rahal, whether it’s one week or one month at Indy, all that matters is one day: race day. There is still plenty of time for son to follow in father’s footsteps.
“I just want to be successful on various different scales but for me if I don’t retire with at least a couple of titles and Indy 500’s I’ll be pretty disappointed … At 22 I finished third in the 500. Dario turned 40 yesterday, so I feel I have so many more years in this sport. Maybe I’m not A.J. Foyt with 35 consecutive 500’s, but I definitely think I can make 25 straight.”