There probably aren't many women who would find "Graham Rahal's girlfriend" an offensive way to be labeled during a television broadcast. He's handsome, drives an Indy car for a living and is the son of three-time CART champion and 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal.
Offensive it is not -- unless you're Courtney Force, who is, in fact, his girlfriend. The two were became engaged last month and announced it to the world on Twitter.
Her irritation began when Force, NHRA Funny Car racer and daughter of 16-time Funny Car world champion John Force, was interviewed on TV in June during Rahal's race at Texas Motor Speedway. Shortly after the interview, Force began receiving pictures on Twitter with screenshots of the broadcast, which omitted her own profession.
Outside racing, it would be like calling Angelina Jolie just "Brad Pitt's wife."
"I was really bitter about it because do you know how hard I work to try to keep my name separate from not being John Force's daughter my whole life? I work hard to be my own driver, be with my team and win races on my own," she says. "I'm fighting to be a great driver, not just a great female driver in my sport, and now I have to be John Force's daughter/Graham Rahal's girlfriend?"
- See more at: http://autoweek.com/article/racing/funny-car-star-Rahal is empathetic and believes it's actually what makes their relationship so special.
"There's nobody that I could date in this entire world who understands the pressures that I go through—having a family name, following in your father's footsteps, being in the same sport, the pressure of media, fans—nobody can understand all those things like we can understand each other," he points out.
"The only difference is my dad's still racing, so I have to compete against him," reminds Force, who finished the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season fourth in the Funny Car drivers' championship. Her dad was runner-up.
Rahal finished 19th in the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season, with four top-10 finishes.
Racing might be what brought them together, but ultimately it's what also keeps them apart—usually by a distance of several hundred miles.
A proud Midwesterner and Ohio native, Rahal, 25, resides in Carmel, Ind., while Force, 26, has a home within just a few miles of her parents and two of her sisters in California.
"John doesn't like his girls being more than 3 feet away from him at any given time," Rahal jokes.
"It's true," Force says. "Our relationship is at whatever race we're at. I can't remember the last time we had an off-weekend in Indy or California."
When they are together, it's often work-related and there are almost always other people around.
They have the usual trials and tribulations of any long-distance relationship but also some that are unique to a certain level of celebrity. For example, Rahal must accept the fact that millions of people have seen his girlfriend … well, nearly naked. Shortly before they started dating last year, Force appeared inside and on the cover of ESPN The Magazine's "The Body Issue."
"When we met, he told me that he never had a copy. So I took that as he'd never seen it and thought that was kind of nice," she says.
Months later, the topic came up again.
"I saw it; I said I never had the magazine," he admits. "Of course I've seen it, there's a thing called the Internet. We're in racing. It was everywhere."
So will Rahal strip down for the camera anytime soon?
"It's an extremely cool thing; I would do it if they asked."
The decision to appear in the issue wasn't one Force made as easily. She turned it down the first time when ESPN approached her during her rookie season.
"I wanted to accomplish something as a driver first. … I got a few wins under my belt and finally decided to do it," she says. "I was working really hard in the gym to keep up in a male-dominated sport—there's me and one other female in Funny Car, that's it. It's a great way to showcase your body to show people we are athletes."
Similarities in their childhood and athletic careers might serve as the relationship's common ground, but being one of racing's few women isn't something Rahal can really relate to personally or professionally.
"At some point, she wants to have kids, so the long haul is maybe no more than 10 more years," he observes.
Force stiffens visibly at just the thought.
"He can say it so lightly, but it makes me feel like I'm running out of time to get all of my goals accomplished. It's hard for me to accept moving past racing. My career is always first to me," she says. "I hope I can get everything done that I want to achieve."
That's not to say Rahal isn't supportive. He spent the first part of his offseason attending the remainder of her races.
"That's why this has worked," she agrees. "We know what it's like to win or lose a race. You know the pain that you go through. He gets it."
In terms of what the future holds, there's much that remains to be seen.
The topic of marriage sends the conversation into a flurry about scheduling conflicts and contracts. Rahal is in the second of a three-year contract with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing; Force is ready to sign another contract when her five-year deal with John Force Racing ends in 2015.
For now, they settled on spending Thanksgiving with his family, Christmas with hers and as much time together as possible before their respective seasons begin next year. Come Jan. 2, they'll both be back in their separate shops, working to make a place for their own names in history.
By Leslie Bailey
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