March 07, 2018

Spectator Nerves sometimes get the best of spouses Graham Rahal, Courtney Force


ST. PETERSBURG — Married racing stars Graham Rahal and Courtney Force have more in common than growing trophy cabinets, famous family names and exhausting travel schedules.
Both find it much easier to drive race cars than to watch each other do so.
"The thing about driving yourself is that you're in control," Rahal said Wednesday. "Watching her, obviously I'm not. You do worry."
Rahal doesn't have to worry this weekend. He is back at what he calls "one of my top two or three races the whole year," this weekend's IndyCar season opener, the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, around the city's downtown streets.

And if Rahal and NHRA Funny Car driver Force, both 29, don't sound like an old married couple yet, they do sound similar in expressing what it's like to watch each other race. Force, who earned her ninth career Funny Car victory last month in Phoenix, will be cheering for Rahal this weekend.

"It's hard because when you're out of the seat, you're out of control," she said Wednesday. "It's hard for me to just sit back and be a fan, especially because I don't understand IndyCars as well as Funny Cars. It's nerve-racking, especially when it's your husband getting into the car. I'm just nervous for him."
In addition to racing full schedules, Force — the daughter of Funny Car legend John Force and sister of Top Fuel driver Brittany Force — and Rahal attend each other's races when they can. Nerves aside, each has a unique perspective on the fan perspective in each other's series.
"I love the atmosphere that IndyCar has created," Courtney Force said. "They do a really great job to get the fans to interact with different things, like music. … I've seen how they have done it at the Indy 500; that's such a spectacle."
Rahal said there are things the NHRA does well in terms of fan interaction. But he said that what fans will see this weekend in St. Petersburg — where he debuted in IndyCar with a victory 10 years ago — is top-notch.
"What I like about NHRA that I wish Indy would do is that one ticket buys all. I think that works well for what they're doing," he said. "(The NHRA needs) to find a way to spice up (the time) between rounds, and they're all aware of that. … But it's hard to beat a fan experience like St. Pete, when you get to watch race cars, look at boats, enjoy the view of the water, everything else. That's not something you'll get, in my opinion, at any other motorsport other than if you go to (the Formula One race in) Monaco."
Rahal — a six-time winner in IndyCar, including five times in the past three seasons — is not tempted to try drag racing as a participant.
"I respect what they do tremendously; I enjoy supporting my wife when I go to those events," he said. "Yes, it's racing, but it's really apples and oranges in many ways. I grew up around IndyCar racing, and I love IndyCar racing. She grew up around (NHRA), and Courtney loves that."
And, Rahal said, being married is an even greater motivating factor in his racing career.
"When you get married, you quickly realize that now you're representing more than just yourself," he said. "You have that responsibility that comes with it, and that's really helped me. When you're young and you come into this sport, it's easy to have fun. You make some money, and you're not worried about saving a lot of it. When life changes like that — and I can't even imagine how it is with kids — I feel like it brings a level of responsibility and respect for another person.
"I certainly want to make her proud, as I do my family in general."

IndyCar Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

When: Friday-Sunday, downtown streets. Race is 12:30 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: From $20 (Friday or Saturday general admission, ages 12 and under) to $135 (all three days, adult, upper rows). Paddock passes extra. See or call 1-877-725-8849


Defending champion: Sebastien Bourdais


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