I grew up around cars. My dad [1986 Indy 500 champion Bobby Rahal] is a car fanatic. But I've probably taken that passion even further. When I was in high school, in New Albany, Ohio, our class had to do a senior seminar; we had to put 100 hours into something we were passionate about, a learning experience. I chose to restore an old car.
When I was a kid, my dad drove Morris Mini Coopers, and I got attached to them. It's such an iconic automobile. So in 2004 I found a 1964 Mini Cooper in Bowling Green, Ohio—the perfect donor car for my senior project. With my dad's graces, I bought it for $7,000. It became an obsession. I'd get home every day from school, go to our little car barn, put on some music and start working, until the wee hours of night.
I found replacement parts online, put in all-new brakes, and redid the upholstery myself. When my brother and I pulled off the frame to get it painted, it was so light, we could carry it ourselves. As I'm talking about it now, I'm going through my old binder for my senior seminar. It's scary how much money and time I put into this car—more than double the hours I had to for school. When I finished it, I think it had to be as cherry as any 1960s Mini Cooper out there.
In racing circles, people know about this car now. It has quite a reputation. I've had so many memories in it with my buddies. Even this morning, I was driving to the coffee shop with my wife, in Indianapolis. I'm 6'3". I got out of the car and a guy said, "Oh man, you fit in that thing?" It's way more roomy than it looks.
I have owned a lot of exotic cars through the years, including a Ferrari F40, a Porsche 918 Spyder, and a Porsche Carrera GT, which I'd put in the top three sports cars of all-time. But the Mini is my baby. It'll be with me forever.