Economy Has Brought Rahal Family Together
Mike Harris | Senior Writer
Bobby Rahal is a racer, but he’s also a businessman.
When no major sponsorships developed after the 2008 season, the business side of the longtime open-wheel driving star and team owner realized it made sense to shut down the IndyCar portion of his team for 2009.
The racer side was terribly disappointed.
Rahal, the 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner and a three-time champion in the former CART series, did find a way to get to Indy for the big race last year, bringing Oriol Servia to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the second weekend of qualifying and making it into the event in which he finished 26th. But that was Rahal Letterman Racing’s only IndyCar start last season.
With the economy just beginning its recovery, sponsorship remains scarce for many teams, including RLR. But, this year, Rahal was able to show up for the opening of the speedway, this time with 21-year-old son Graham at the wheel of his car.
The younger Rahal, a rising star in the IZOD IndyCar Series, was also the victim of a team with sponsorship problems, losing his ride with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing at the end of last season. Graham did hook up with Sarah Fisher’s team for a few races this season, but it was far from a fully funded ride and left the youngster on the sidelines for Indy.
Thanks to a last-minute deal with new sponsor Quick Trim, the Rahals were able to put the Indy deal together.
Graham has driven a sports car for RLR, but this is the first time the father has put the son in an IndyCar.
“It’s exciting for us to come together,’’ Graham said. “This is a whole new experience, new adventure … basically, this month is something that’s going to be a lot of fun for us.
“I know that dad clearly has had a lot of success here. If there’s one guy that you would like to be involved with, or someone that you can kind of take advantage of all the advice that they can give you, it’s him, especially here.’’
It’s an interesting adventure for the elder Rahal, too.
“I think, for me personally, I always felt that Graham would come drive for us at some point,’’ Bobby said. “I never felt it was going to happen quite this quickly, particularly last fall when it looked like things were set (for Graham to continue with Newman/Haas/Lanigan).
“No. 1, I’m thrilled to be back here for the 500. I really wish we were part of the series in its entirety. We’re working very hard to make that happen. We’ve worked very hard with the IRL and everybody we could to do what we could to get here and to return to the series, and that’s certainly our goal.’’
Bobby said the team was very excited when he told them that Graham was going to be in the car.
“And then, a split-second later, everybody is going, `Oh, we better make sure this is a good program. We’ve got the boss’s kid in the car.’ Not that we’ve ever come here without a good program.’’
The Indy effort is being led by team general manager Scott Roembke, who has been Bobby’s friend for many years and part of the team from the start.
That fact is a comfort for Graham, who has known Roembke all of his life.
“I feel extremely confident,’’ Graham said. “Obviously, we’ve got to be kind of cautious about our expectations and stuff. But RLR has always had competitive cars here. They’ve won the race (with Buddy Rice in 2004). Danica (Patrick) led here as a rookie (in 2005), and putting a good car under her made her who she is. And Vitor (Meira) finished second (in 2005).
“They’ve always been strong here. I feel confident coming here with this organization and with Scott. This is what Scott lives for. So I feel confident coming here with him calling the race; he knows what he’s doing.’’
Bobby is confident, too.
“I think we’ve got a lot of good people, and I’m pretty confident we’ll be in the thick of it,’’ he said.
– Mike Harris can be reached at email@example.comNo Comment