Bobby Rahal Has Bittersweet Memories Of ’86 Win

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 27 2016
Bobby Rahal hopes that his son Graham can do what he did 30 years ago at Indy. (RacinToday photo by Martha Fairris)

Bobby Rahal hopes that his son Graham can do what he did 30 years ago at Indy. (RacinToday photo by Martha Fairris)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

INDIANAPOLIS – Thirty years ago, the winning driver of the Indianapolis 500 was interviewed in a small room underneath the old cement-block grandstands at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, just this side of the intersection leading into Gasoline Alley.

bugindy500A simple table served as the dais for the winner and his car-owner and maybe his crew chief. Properly credentialed media sat crammed against one another on brown, metal folding chairs, with limited standing room for stragglers. The wall-mounted air-conditioning unit that tried to keep everyone cool  did a much better job of drowning-out key post-race remarks…or so it seems in retrospect.

That was the setting on the afternoon of Saturday, May 31, 1986, when a bespectacled Bobby Rahal won the rain-delayed 70th running of the Indianapolis 500. Originally scheduled for May 25, persistent rain had pushed the race back by six days. Rahal took the lead with a dramatic pass around Kevin Cogan of Patrick Racing on a restart on Lap 198 of 200 en route to a margin of victory of 1.441-seconds.

An hour or so after taking the checkered flag, Rahal walked into that interview room as a man whose life was about to be changed forever. Aided by Rahal, a frail Jim Trueman, Bobby’s car-owner, walked into that room as a man who was about to lose his battle against cancer.

“When I think of 30 years ago, that’s pretty much the story,” Rahal said during Thursday’s annual Media Day leading into Sunday’s historic 100th running of the Indy 500. An event replete with story

The late Tom Carnegie interviews Bobby Rahal, winner of the 1986 Indy 500. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway)

The late Tom Carnegie interviews Bobby Rahal, winner of the 1986 Indy 500. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway)

lines includes this one based upon family pride – Graham Rahal, Bobby’s son, chasing victory at “The Brickyard” 30 years after his father’s emotional win.

“I have a picture of Jim leaning into the cockpit before the start of the race and I remember what he said: ‘Do your best today,’ ” Bobby Rahal said. In Victory Lane, Trueman joined Rahal in taking the traditional swig of milk and reportedly whispered to an ABC-TV reporter, “I can go now.”

“Last week they had the track (big screen TV) feed on and they’re showing the ’86 Indy 500 and they’re interviewing Jim after the race, and he’s obviously hanging on,” Rahal said. “So, you remember that.”

Rahal also remembered that the race’s original date, May 25, was Trueman’s 51st birthday. “He barely made it here for the race the next week,” said Rahal, driver that day of the No. 3 Budweiser March/Cosworth fielded by Truesports and his mentor, Jim. “He willed himself, I think, because in Columbus (Ohio) they had a victory parade for us downtown like four days later and he couldn’t make it.”

Jim Trueman died on June 11, 1986, just 11 days after his team won “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

“For us, that team, it was kind of a bittersweet victory in the sense that we never were really able to

Bobby Rahal has clear memories of the 1986 500.

Bobby Rahal has clear memories of the 1986 500.

enjoy it like we would have because of his condition,” Rahal said. “But in the end, here you go out and you achieve a dream for a guy before he passes, and that’s pretty special. Not many people get that chance.”

Graham Rahal was not alive on the day his father won the Indy 500, but he is well-versed in the moment and what it has meant to the Rahal and Trueman families.

“Yeah, I mean it’s emotional for my dad still,” said Graham, who will start 26th in the 33-car field in the No. 15 Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan with Theodore Racing. “The other day dad was talking about Jim Trueman and I choked-up a little bit because Jim was a larger-than-life sort of character _ a guy who had so much influence in the sport.”

Trueman’s business ventures included ownership of the Red Roof Inns motel chain and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. An accomplished amateur racer, Trueman competed in eight SCCA National Championship Runoffs at Road Atlanta, finishing first in C Sports Racer in 1975.

As a major player in the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART), Trueman’s business savvy helped accelerate the growth of domestic open-wheel racing, a trend that took a downward spiral in 1996 with the launch of Tony George’s rival, all-oval Indy Racing League. The schism between the IRL and CART nearly destroyed open-wheel racing before a merger was announced in February 2008 under the current INDYCAR sanctioning banner.

“My dad always says to me, and maybe he’s wrong, but he says: ‘I’m just not sure that the split would have ever happened if Jim was around,’^” Graham Rahal said. “He feels like Jim was the sort of guy that could have been the problem-solver and kind of kept everybody together.

“And to win the Indy 500, that was Jim’s dream. He gave my dad a chance in the early 1980s to put together a race team. And he wins the Indy 500 and he dies of cancer. Obviously, it would have been awesome to meet Jim because really our family is in the position we’re in because of him and the opportunities he gave to my dad early in his career. I think more than maybe even winning Indy itself for my dad, to win it for Jim was everything. You got the sense he got his dream and that was that.”

Despite his disappointing four-lap/10-mile qualifying run last Sunday, Graham is convinced he will be a contender during Sunday’s 200-lapper around the 2.5-mile IMS oval.

“Let me put it this way…I’m trying to not be overconfident,” said Rahal, buoyed by his car’s performance in traffic during Monday’s post-qualifying practice. “The other day on long runs, I had no problem passing anybody I was around.  And I don’t think I got passed by a single car. I feel good about that. For me, if we can get an extended run to start would be good. I think we take care of our tires better a little bit. The biggest key is not to lose the draft because it should stay in a pretty big group is my gut (feeling). But if we start to get any separation between groups of cars, it could be hard to catch the group in front because of the (aero) drag. We need to try to stay right with whomever we’re with, and go from there.

“I genuinely feel like we have a good shot. I know a lot of people won’t think about us, starting back

The Rahals have high hopes for Sunday's 100th running of the Indy 500.

The Rahals have high hopes for Sunday’s 100th running of the Indy 500.

where we do (Row 9 of 11)…I think a lot of people count us out. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re in the hunt there toward the finish.”

This will be Graham’s ninth Indy 500, an event that has seen him finish as low as 33rd and last (2008) for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing and as high as third (2011) while driving for Chip Ganassi Racing. Now in his fourth consecutive season with RLLR, Graham started 17th and finished fifth last May. Still, the only six laps he has led here among a career 1,128 run were recorded with Ganassi’s team five years ago.

“I would expect good things Sunday,” Graham said. “For the month we just struggled, we couldn’t get a balance out of the car for whatever reason. I actually feel like we have a lot we need to work on to gain here. But I believe our team is a championship contender. We’ve proven that this year, everywhere we’ve gone…coming off a couple top-fives in a row.

“Look, I started fourth here at Indy and I ended in the fence (2009), and I started 29th and finished third. So my worst starting spot ever was my best finish. I’m looking forward to seeing how this all plays-out. Anything can happen. Anything can happen.”

And consider serendipity: Graham’s victory in the 2011 Rolex 24 at Daytona came 30 years after his father’s win in the sports car classic. Graham’s victory at Mid-Ohio last summer came 30 years after his father did so. And Graham won his SCCA Formula Atlantic championship 30 years after his father.

“I’m hoping this is a pattern that continues,” said Graham, a 27-year-old resident of New Albany, Ohio, and Indy. “I try not to think about it much but I was with my wife (NHRA Funny Car driver Courtney Force) and everybody Monday night and I just thought, ‘How insane it would be to get that.’ I think it’d be great _ it’d be great for our sport if Marco (Andretti) or myself, just a name that people remember from the past _ can win. Obviously, there’ll be a lot more eyeballs and people in the seats Sunday.

“So I’ve definitely thought about it. I know how much it changed my dad’s life and ours, as kids, and for sure for me it would be awesome. I’ve got to do a job on Sunday and if all things go well, if it’s our day it’s going to be our day. I really feel like I have a great race car. I feel like I’ve got a great team. It’s got to be your day for it all to come together.  But I can tell you that if it comes down to the last few laps and we’re in the battle for a win, we will do everything in our power to make sure it happens.

“And I know if it could ever happen it’d be pretty emotional for my dad and Dave (Letterman) and Mike (Lanigan)…a guy who’s put a lot of time and money and effort into my career. And we all know what the Indy 500 means to Letterman. So it’d be pretty cool if we could all do it together. I think my dad would be probably the happiest man on the planet _for the rest of his life.”

Bobby Rahal said his pre-race advice to Graham will continue to be succinct: “I’ll tell him to focus on every lap and that’ll get you to the end.”

Or as Jim Trueman once famously said, even more pointedly, “Do your best today.”

When their post-race interview was finished 30 years ago, Rahal wrapped his left arm around Trueman’s waist and began to walk him down the aisle and out the door. The assembled media rose in unison, accompanied by the sound of those metal chairs scraping against each other and the concrete floor. The media stood silently as Rahal and Trueman slowly made their way out, and there wasn’t a dry eye in that small room.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 27 2016
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