Family History Helps Rahal Appreciate Winning Impact of Indy 500

Family History Helps Rahal Appreciate Winning Impact of Indy 500

Graham Rahal knows a driver's life changes forever after winning the Indianapolis 500, even though he never has crossed the Yard of Bricks first.

He saw it, lived it, savored it - through his father.

Rahal's father, Bobby Rahal, won "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing" in 1986, 2 ½ years before Graham was born. But Graham still knows how his father's life and his family was forever altered for the better after the victory.

"The Indy 500 is the most powerful thing in my life," Rahal said. "When you look at the influence and the change that it provided to my family after my dad won it, I've experienced that first-hand. Someday I dream to be an Indy 500 winner."

Rahal, 29, will continue his quest to earn his first Indy victory in the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oilon Sunday, May 27. If he wins in his 11th "500" start, he will join his father on the Borg-Warner Trophy as one of only two father-son tandems to win the world's greatest race. Al Unser and Al Unser Jr. combined for six victories at Indy, with father winning four times and son twice.

"It's my dream," Rahal said. "My dream is to win the Indy 500 and to join my pops. Only one other father and son has been able to do that. For us to add our name to that would be spectacular. One of the big reasons we race together is because we want to win the Indy 500 together."

Rahal started his IndyCar career away from his father's team, driving for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing in 2007 at age 18. He achieved quick success, becoming the youngest IndyCar race winner after capturing the 2009 season opener at St. Petersburg at age 19.

He drove for four teams in 2010 before moving to the powerful Chip Ganassi Racing team in 2011 for two seasons. That partnership wasn't as fruitful as either the driver or team hoped, as Rahal was winless in two seasons with Ganassi, with a best season finish of ninth in 2011.

But the pairing with Ganassi produced Rahal's best performance to date at Indianapolis, in 2011. He finished third behind winner Dan Wheldon and runner-up JR Hildebrand in an impressive drive after starting 29th.

Rahal came home in 2013, joining his father's Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team. He struggled in his first two seasons with RLL, finishing 18th in the standings in 2013 and 19th in 2014.

But a long-anticipated breakthrough came in 2015. Rahal finished fourth in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings with his dad's team. He earned two victories, including an emotional win at Mid-Ohio, close to his home in Columbus, Ohio.

Rahal has been a championship contender ever since, finishing fifth in points in 2016 and sixth in 2017, with victories in both seasons.

But victory at Indianapolis has eluded Rahal. He thought he was in position to win last year, running fifth before a flat tire forced an unscheduled pit stop late in the race, dropping him to 22nd. Still, Rahal rallied to finish 12th, completing all 200 laps for the third consecutive year.

This year, reigning "500" winner Takuma Sato has rejoined Rahal Letterman Lanigan for the season, and Oriol Servia is the team's Indy-only driver in one of the strongest lineups this month at IMS.

Rahal and Sato also are racing in the INDYCAR Grand Prix on Saturday, May 12 on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile IMS road course. Both the Grand Prix and the "500" will feature the new car that has captivated Verizon IndyCar Series car with its sleek looks and close racing.

"This new car accelerates a lot quicker," Rahal said. "That track (IMS road course) really highlights speed, highlights agility. It's going to be really fast around there. So everybody that is coming out, you're going to be wowed by the looks of the car but also by the speed and performance of it."

Then it's time to shift focus to the "500," which Rahal said is as much of a test of endurance as speed - on and off the track.

"I'm pretty involved with a lot of things," he said. "There's a lot of appearances. There are a ton of interviews. There's a lot of stress. There's a lot of stress on you. It's the biggest race in the world. It's the biggest month of the year for our sport, and there's a lot of stress. It's that simple.

"By the time you get to Sunday night after Indy, you really want to wrap it up with a victory because it takes a lot of effort for all of our guys. Every mechanic, they'd say the same thing. I could say it's the most exciting month, and it is. But it is also exhausting, and by the end of it, you're ready for a good nap."

A victory would ensure that would be the sweetest sleep of Rahal's life.