Rahal Follows Charitable Examples Set by Parents, Newman

Rahal Follows Charitable Examples Set by Parents, Newman

When it comes to role models in racing who help you learn about the importance of giving back to society, Graham Rahal certainly had it better than most.

After getting a primer on charitable work from his parents at home, Rahal found himself watching one of racing's most successful philanthropists, late actor Paul Newman, when he broke into Indy car racing in 2007.

"When I talked to Paul about all the things he had done, it was crazy. He raised a ridiculous amount of money for charity - it was absolutely phenomenal," said Rahal, driver of the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and son of three-time Indy car champion Bobby Rahal.

"Paul wasn't a (Microsoft founder) Bill Gates where he made billions and just donated it. He went out and fought for it and got it. I tell everybody, 'When you go to the grocery store, buy Newman's Own products because that money goes to help kids in need and there's nothing better to support than that.'"

The late Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing co-owner and film star's Newman's Own brand has donated more than $460 million to charity since 1982. Newman used funds from his food product lines to establish the "Hole in the Wall Gang Camp" in 1988, which offered children fighting serious illnesses an opportunity to forget about their medical battles for a while and, as Newman put it, "raise a little hell."

Named after the hideout used by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid - the pair made famous in the film of the same name starring Newman and Robert Redford - the first camp transformed into a network with a global reach. Now known as the Serious Fun Children's Network, there are 30 camps around the world that have welcomed about 500,000 kids in the past two decades.

After seeing the Hollywood star's charity lose momentum in motorsports after Newman passed away in 2008, the Rahal felt compelled to act.

"Everything in his life was about laughing and smiling. When he was here, Hole in the Wall Camps was always involved in Indy car and always a part of it, and when he passed, it kind of disappeared in 2009 and that really ticked me off. I took it personally and that's why I started my foundation," Rahal said.

"I choose the causes based on Paul Newman because of the opportunities in life that he gave me, among others. Typically, it's all focused on kids and helping those in need."

Rahal also got a good dose of civic responsibility from parents who have been hugely involved in helping good causes over the years. His 1986 Indianapolis 500-winning father works tirelessly to raise money for the Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, through the Bobby Rahal Foundation.

One of the world's leading children's hospitals, it features the Bobby and Debi Rahal Bone Marrow Transplant Wing in recognition of his parents' fundraising efforts and donations.

"I grew up with four healthy kids in my family, with great parents, financial stability and a nice home and all those sorts of things, but not everybody gets that," Graham said. "I have always felt that it's my job, as it was my parents' to give back and help improve the lives of others who haven't been so fortunate. It's a big part of my life.

"The foundation is just myself and one or two other people who help run it in their spare time. We have raised a couple million dollars, but I'd like to see it grow and get my wife (NHRA drag racer Courtney Force) further involved. Courtney is about the most passionate person I have seen with kids and I think together we could do a lot."

In addition to the Serious Fun Network, money raised by the Graham Rahal Foundation (www.grahamrahal.com/foundation) goes to Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer. Alex's Lemonade Stand started in 2000 when 4-year-old cancer patient Alexandra Scott sold drinks on her front lawn to help raise money to help find a cure for the disease. It quickly grew into a national charity and, before she died in 2004, the lemonade stands had raised more than $1 million.

Rahal has also been front and center when tragedy struck the INDYCAR paddock. Following the deaths of Dan Wheldon in 2011 and Justin Wilson last year, Rahal moved quickly in support of the fallen drivers' families.

Soon after Wheldon lost his life in an accident during the 2011 season finale, Rahal organized an online auction of sports memorabilia that raised $630,000 to help Dan's wife Susie and his sons Sebastian and Oliver. A similar effort following Wilson's death in 2015 saw almost $640,000 go to Justin's wife Julia and daughters Jessica and Jane.

"They were two great guys and better people than they were competitors, which says a lot," Rahal said. "It was my job to help them and take care of them."

"Justin had more of an effect on my life than any other driver. He was my teammate when I was a kid (2008 at Newman/Haas/Lanigan), and I never learned so much than I did from that guy. He was totally selfless and just wanted to help mold me, I felt, and who could just make me a better driver and tougher competitor."

Graham is also helping military veterans with every race lap he turns in 2016. United Rentals, one of Rahal Letterman Lanigan's sponsors, announced last week that it would donate $50 for every lap he completes this season to Turns for Troops (www.turnsfortroops.com), a program with the non-profit organization SoldierStrong dedicated to helping veterans who sustained major injuries while serving their country.

With Rahal totaling 951 laps completed at the midpoint of the season, the initiative has already raised $47,550.

"Being an American and as passionate as I am about supporting the military in general, without a doubt, it feels good," Rahal said. "Anything that we can do to help veterans is key."