Grandfather was First of Racing Rahals

Grandfather was First of Racing Rahals

NDIANAPOLIS — Just think how different things would be for Bobby Rahal and his family if his father had been into fishing rather than auto racing.

"I'd be into fishing," Rahal said, laughing. "I'm sure."

Instead, his father, Mike, who died this month at 93, was a part-time racer in the amateur ranks from the 1950s to 1980s and a full-time racing fan. He passed that passion along to his older son Bobby — who was born in Medina and later lived in central Ohio — winner of the Indianapolis 500 in 1986 as a driver and in 2004 as a team owner. And Bobby has since passed on that passion to his second son, Graham.

So it's fitting that when Graham Rahal, 28, takes the green flag Sunday in his 10th Indianapolis 500 that among the sponsor decals on his car will be a tribute to his grandfather — a blue decal stating "RIP BOMPA, the original racing Rahal." Also on his mind also will be his grandmother, Barbara Rahal, who died in August at 88.

"My grandfather, he started our passion, our love for racing, but my grandmother equally," Graham said. "When we used to go to their house (in Glen Ellyn, Illinois) and they had every single race on tape, that was like our tradition. We would put in a race tape. We'd watch Dad — typically, only if he did well. I didn't want to if he didn't."

Laughter followed, but Graham said his grandmother could remember key moments from his grandfather's races as well as those from Bobby's three-championship career in IndyCar and from her grandson's four race wins.

"I was like, I can't remember what lap time I did last week, and she could remember everything," Graham said. "So it really is family."

Mike Rahal, who built a successful international foods business, sneaked Bobby into his first real race as a driver at age 17, one year younger than the minimum, and encouraged him to persevere when it was obvious he had exceptional talent.

"Initially, I think he was always a little concerned on whether you could make much of a living at it, because in those days, not many people were," Bobby said. "But then you get into Can-Am, you win the Daytona 24-hour race, and, hmmm ... My dad would talk to people like (driver) Brian Redman about me, who told him, 'It's there.'

"You didn't want to waste your time chasing something if it wasn't attainable. I didn't have a plan B. My only plan was to make it racing, and I think at times he wished I'd had a plan B. But I think if you have a plan B, you're not giving plan A 100 percent."

Because of his racing and business success, Bobby has had the luxury of ushering Graham through his plan A, though Graham raced for several other teams in IndyCar to prove his mettle before hooking up with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for good in 2013.

Now they again have the chance to become just the second father-son combination to win the Indianapolis 500, joining Al Unser Sr. and Jr.

And it would come with "Bompa" on board.

"Trust me, I've thought about it and you try to not — I want to actually live it versus just dream it," Graham said. "Dad and I have talked about this many times, to win Indy would be special, but to win Indy together would mean more than you could really put into words."

Which is funny in a way, because the day Bobby won in 1986, his father had to watch from home while recovering from back surgery. Bobby already was having a grand house built along the seventh fairway at Muirfield Village, which fostered an unusual reaction from his father when they spoke by phone after the win.

"I said, 'Can you believe it? We won the Indy 500?'" Bobby recalled. "And he said, 'Well, now you can pay for that house.' (Laughs.) Not congrats."