An interview with Bobby and Graham Rahal
Graham, I guess we'll start with you. You've been on the track now three days. Talk about your experience here thus far.
GRAHAM RAHAL: It's been a great last couple of days. I think obviously I've been coming here a long time with dad, and a lot of memories of the track. But it's always different when you're driving yourself and in it. To get out on the track, it's a pretty daunting place. It's hard at first. As everybody says, it seems like every single corner is a bit different than one another. Although you look at them, they all look pretty much the same, it's definitely tough.
Obviously, I think our cars, the Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing group, I think the cars are running pretty well, we're pretty competitive so far. Obviously we need to find a little more speed. But it's still early. So far we're pretty happy with it.
Yesterday started off a bit tough. But at the end I think things really came around. Obviously we're looking to build on it today. The weather, we'll see what happens, but hopefully it will hold off.
THE MODERATOR: Bobby, you're focused on your team operation, you're keeping a watchful eye on Graham. Talk about how you do that and what you're looking for.
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I'm not sure I do it very well. Obviously when Alex and Ryan are out there, my interest is with them. Same token, if Graham is out there at the same time, seems like all I'm doing is looking at the monitor or looking at the screens up in the grandstands, the speeds. I think naturally I'm interested in what's going on on all fronts, and it's just sort of a bit -- for example, when we were done yesterday at the end of the day, our team, I sat and watched Graham run the last 20 minutes or so. For me it's nice that at least I get to see him every weekend race now. In years past it's been here and there. So I feel lucky that even though we have our team, I feel like I that I can watch him do his thing.
Q. Graham, I'm going to assume he's given you some advice. Just tell me kind of some of the things he's told you about getting around this place.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I think every circuit I go to, there's always a piece of advice. You know, we always joke about it. It's kind of like a little league father, right? He's always got his words. He's always trying to jump in on it.
But, no, I think the biggest thing here was I actually -- I rode around with Rick Mears on I guess Saturday. Sorry, it was Sunday. Obviously he's been very competitive, won a lot of races here. Every single piece of advice he told me, as far as your apex points, down to where you run on the straightaways, everything has come true.
Even with dad, I took those basic things I learned from Rick - if there was something that needed to be changed, like initially I was running too far to the left on the front straight, dad would come down and let me know. If I need a little more margin for error, of course he always lets me know when it comes to that.
I think there's always little bits of advice, it comes as the month goes on. If there's something he sees, obviously he'll come down and let me know. Initially, I don't know, maybe I'm forgetting something, but... He might be the one to ask.
Q. Bobby, in the past, the Ganassi team has been known for their secrecy. If we stand with a camera in front of their car too long, they come and chase you. With your relationship now with a second car, which is a Ganassi car, how does the engineering operation work between the two cars? Are they telling you everything or are they not doing anything on the second car?
BOBBY RAHAL: No. Well, first off, Alex is contracted to Chip. Andy Brown, who was (Dan) Wheldon's engineer for the last several years, he's the engineer for Alex and working hand-in-hand with us. In fact, every morning at 9:45, we have an engineering meeting which is chaired by myself and Neil Fife, who is Ryan's engineer, and Andy, myself, Scott Roembke, and Jay O'Connell, who is our technical director, we all meet and discuss the previous day's running, the plans for the current day.
We agreed to this right from the start, that it has been a very open book between Chip's side and our side both ways, you know, us providing information to them, them to us.
Alex is not yet a Wheldon or a Scott Dixon. So the setups aren't necessarily the same. But the information I think is very free-flowing between the two, and it's been very open. I think it's worked out exactly the way we had hoped it would, because I think for us to give Alex the best opportunity he can have, we have to have that level of communication, just as we have to have it for Ryan, as well.
So far it's been quite good.
Q. Bobby, if you've told Graham anything, what sort of advice have you given him? And your victory in '86 here, how did that change your life?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, regarding any advice I gave Graham about this place, really it's similar with all the ovals: it's be patient. That's maybe even more important here because of the length of time that you're out here, how many laps you're doing, the things that -- the hiccups that can happen. So you just have to stay very patient and very disciplined. I think those were the two probably biggest pieces of advice I can give him.
I can't tell him how to drive, other than after his slide yesterday, I did tell him he didn't need to do that again (laughter). Didn't need to see that.
But, as I say, ultimately he's got to experience it all. But at least, as I said to people before, I can't tell him now to drive, but I can tell him where the land mines are buried, the things he has to look out for. He's done that really all by himself in many respects over the years that he's raced. It's really just sort of the things like that, being patient and what have you, that I try to leave with him.
Regarding this race and how it changed my life, well, it probably changed it irrevocably in the sense from a commercial standpoint and from a professional standpoint. Things are never the same, they're better. As I've said to many people, you're always probably for the rest of your life, or at least it certainly seems to be the case, you're always introduced as the Indianapolis 500 winner. I won a lot of other races, some of which were maybe even a little bit more difficult to win, but I'm never introduced as the winner of the Portland 200, with all due respect to Portland. It's always the Indianapolis 500. That's just the stature of this event. I mean, that's the reality.
You know, I think I'm really pleased that Graham has finally had the opportunity to race here, that everybody's together, because I think it really brings back -- you know, you can clearly state that the best drivers in open-wheel racing are in this race this year.
Q. Bobby, you kind of started to touch on it there, but you might be able to answer this from a couple different perspectives, team owner and Graham's father. How important is it that open-wheel racing is going forward as one, as the IndyCar Series?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I mean, obviously it's extremely important. I don't think that there's any mystery to that. I mean, I think it's unfortunate that it ever got to the point that it did. But I think now it's wonderful that it's all together because now, frankly, there's potential; there's the ability for open-wheel racing, IndyCar racing is the way we should refer to it, not open-wheel racing, IndyCar racing, now it can regain its rightful place in my mind. With all the drivers we have in this race, I certainly believe the ingredients are there to do that for sure.
And in Graham's case, I think he said it earlier, over the course of the winter when Champ Car was looking a little marginal, there was a lot of rumors, was it going to happen, wasn't going to happen, he made it very clear that when we were having a discussion, he said, I just want to race against the best. And I think for any driver, you want to be a big fish in a big pond, not a big fish in a little pond.
So now there's a chance for all those people to race against each other, and by doing so really create some excitement that's going to draw people back into the sport.
So I think it's just nothing but blue skies. I've said it before. I'm really pleased the first question we've had to answer over the last 13, 14 years is no longer a question.
Q. I know this is a busy month with lots of commitments, even in the evening. I'll throw this out there for both of you. Is there sort of a home base here in Indy? Do you try to get together for dinner? After all, he still is just 19 years old. Does he have to come home at night?
GRAHAM RAHAL: No, you know, I'm just starting to get out on my own. He's finally letting me go (laughter).
I'm staying here at the track. I think dad's obviously downtown. It's one of those things, as you mentioned, definitely try to get together for dinner and talk as much as we can. I think it's good to kind of get out.
One of the things Dad told me in this month, it's a long month, it's very easy to get too caught up in it. Any time you can kind of step away from the speedway a little bit, go out, whether it's just to get a bite to eat, the other night we went to see a movie, it's a good thing to do. It's nice to step away.
Obviously to have dinner with dad, it's kind of a nice way to just talk about what's happened during the day. Even if we step away from that and just talk about other things that are happening, just kind of get into more of a more relaxed mindset, state of mind.
BOBBY RAHAL: I don't think I have to worry about him being in bed. Not that I check up on him. He is only 19. I guess legally you're an adult. You know, I think he's pretty responsible, so I never worry about that.
Q. Graham, both you and Justin (Wilson) are on the larger side as open-wheel racers go, both in height and weight. Even with the weight rule in the IRL for the first time, does it still present some unique problems for you guys in terms of setting up your cars?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, I mean, it's a huge thing. I think we're figuring that out more than ever. Weight is huge, especially when it comes to being on these ovals. It's still not equal by any means. I don't want anybody to think that the driver weight rule is perfect by any means. I think it's one of those things where we've seen a lot of other people complain that it's not fair that they'll add weight, whatever it may be. But if I weighed 130 pounds, I'd be saying the same thing.
The issue is that for Justin (Wilson) and I, we're both big guys. I weigh 175 pounds. But, guess what? I can starve myself; I'm just not going to get much lighter. There's really not much we can do.
Champ Car had a great driver weight rule. That was that every driver had to weigh the same. If someone weighed 130 pounds, the heaviest guy was 190, that someone needed to put 60 pounds of ballast on their car so it was equal. I think that's the way it needs to be. I don't think it's going to happen any time soon. I'd like to see it.
We're closer now than it's been in the past. But weight is huge, especially on these ovals. It's just equal speed. Unfortunately, when it comes to these guys, some of these people running a 118 wheel base, we just can't run that because our weight distribution, I mean, the car would just be horrible. So we're already fighting an uphill battle with weight, then also that. I think it's definitely tough.
Q. Graham, this is your first time here as a driver on the oval. How has that changed your perspective of the place as opposed to being on the road course or as an interested third party in the stands?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I think you gain a lot more respect for obviously the track, the people involved, and certainly the other drivers. I think in the past you watch these guys out there, they're flat out through all four corners. You think, 'That can't be that bad.' Once you go out and do it yourself, I mean, it's almost impossible. It's hard. I think you certainly gain a lot more respect for what you've seen in the past.
I've always come here and had no obligation, really had nothing to do. I've come in to see dad and his team, be a fan, just disappear whenever I wanted. Now it's a different thing. I'm here for the month. Certainly there's a lot more pressure to that. Obviously to have to go out there every single day, I've never done it. I can't even think that I've ever tested a car for more than a couple days straight.
So to be out on track for more than a week straight, I think it definitely would be nice to kind of get a day off to just kind of take a step back and think about everything that has happened. That's something that I know these guys that have been here for the last couple of years, you never really understand how it is until you're here.
Q. It's obvious where Graham got his talent. Where did you get yours? Did your dad race?
BOBBY RAHAL: My mother makes the claim I got it from her. My dad raced. I grew up around it, though it was very, very different for me than it was for Graham, or that it is for Graham. My father raced. He was a weekend warrior, you know, sports car guy. His racing, it might have been his passion, but probably number three or four in terms of priorities.
We never had new cars. I look back and think how he raced. That kind of makes me shudder to think what it really was like, you know, looking back now.
But I grew up around it. When I started racing, there was no expectation that I would race as a hobby let alone as a professional. The idea of being a professional racecar driver, that wasn't even a concept; it just sort of happened.
For Graham, there's a lot more expectation. As I've always said, having the name, it's a double-edged sword: it's good and it's bad.
But for me, I don't know. I don't know how my father, who was a first-generation American, how he even got the bug for racing. I have no clue. But I guess I'm pretty glad he did.
Q. Bobby, you mentioned earlier that the potential is in place for open-wheel to regain its rightful place. What has to be done to translate potential into reality?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, certainly a huge amount of marketing. I mean, I think if you look at NASCAR, you know, you have to ask yourself the question, where would NASCAR have been had it not been for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, who couldn't spend enough money. Because of all the limitations they had where they could market their products, racing became the outlet. So the amount of effort and money and what have you was phenomenal. For sure that has to take a big piece of the responsibility for NASCAR. It's not the total, but certainly they spent a lot of money promoting stock car racing, amongst other forms of motorsport, until the tobacco settlement, then they had to get out of motorcycle racing, drag racing, what have you.
But that kind of effort is going to be needed here, whether it's done by the league itself or by the sponsors. It needs to be promoted, and promoted heavily, so that the individuals, the drivers, whether it's Graham, Marco, Danica - I said many times, you just can't rely on those three. There's a lot of very viable, great racing car drivers that have every right to be promoted as much as Graham, Marco or Danica. But they have to be promoted. The series, the sponsors, have to promote the drivers for it to get back to the place that it once was and perhaps hopefully go beyond.
I mean, the racing, if the racing was the key, well I don't know much better racing out there. But it's not. That's not the key. It's the personalities and the individuals and the stories. NASCAR and sponsors have done a great job of promoting those kinds of things over the years. This series just has to do the same.
Q. Bobby, you mentioned a certain distraction with Graham being on track. It's not uncommon to see a sports coach, for instance, retire or get out of the business so that he can watch his son come through the ranks. Are you any less committed to being a team owner?
BOBBY RAHAL: No. No. In fact, if anything, we just signed an agreement with BMW to manage their ALMS team starting at the end of this year. It's actually ongoing as we speak.
So, no, we're not any less committed. Maybe in some respects more. That's probably why we wanted to run a second car here. The easiest thing would have been to come here with one car. The chances for Ryan would have been less had we done so. So, no, we're out pounding the pavement looking for sponsorship.
For me, as I said earlier, it's a thrill to be able to watch Graham now, which I wasn't able to do as much as I would have liked in the past because of the obligations here and elsewhere. But he's in the right place, for sure. And by the same token, racing has been most of my life. So the idea of getting out probably isn't really much of a concept for me.
Q. Graham, it seems like from driving a racecar, your schoolwork, hitting a golf ball, seems like you're a natural to anything you put your mind to. Makes me wonder, is there anything you're not good at?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Everybody is raving about this golf thing. I don't know where it started (laughter).
You know, there's a lot of things. Golf is more now than ever -- it's a way for me to relax. When I get a couple days home that I have the past couple months, I can guarantee almost every day, whether it's 30 degrees out or not, I was outside playing golf because it's something that you can go out there, you can turn your phone off, you don't have to answer or respond to anything.
BOBBY RAHAL: Except (team public relations director) Kathi (Lauterbach).
GRAHAM RAHAL: Except Kathi. That's obviously something that I love. It's a way for me to relax. Golf has always been a huge part of my life. As a kid, with dad, it still is, it's something we enjoy doing together and we do quite a lot.
But trust me, there are a lot of things. Even in school, I think if I had tried maybe a little harder, willing to work a little harder, study a little harder, I could have been better. Never really wanted to. There are a lot of things that I don't do well.
It makes me wonder the same about some of my friends. Seems like everything they do, they're really good at. I don't know. Some people are just a little more gifted than others, I think.
Q. Graham, your dad said you have a lot of expectations mainly because of your last name. With the season you've had, getting the win, does this take more pressure off each week you're able to get out there?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, I think so. After St. Pete, it takes quite a lot of pressure off. Because a lot of people say, 'You're with a great team, but maybe you got out there because of your name.' And until you win, I think the question is always there. It will always remain.
But once I finally won, especially doing it in the fashion we did it, a lot of people say we may have lucked into it, at the end we pulled away from Helio (Castroneves), Tony (Kanaan), all the guys that are looked up to as the top drivers here, and obviously they still are. But it was nice to beat them. And those are guys that I've looked up to for so long in the past.
The question will always remain, though. Until I'm more successful than dad, I don't think I'll ever stop hearing about it. The problem is dad was obviously very successful, so it's going to be pretty tough to do that.
Certainly it's something that I expect is going to be part of my career. You just have to move on. That's why I've always felt that driving for a team like Newman/Haas/Lanigan, not necessarily my dad's team, I think it's a good thing because it kind of takes me away from him a little bit and I kind of step out from under his shadow.
Q. Bobby, you're obviously a very proud father. Driver to driver, how impressed are you with Graham's driving? Graham, are you a better driver than your dad?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, geeze, do I have to answer that question in front of him (laughter)?
When you think that he wasn't even in a race car five years ago, and here is driving the Indy 500, he's won an IndyCar race already, won a lot of Formula Atlantic races in a very tough field. I mean I would say this whether he was my son or not, I would say, 'That kid can drive.'
I'm equally as impressed with the way he goes about his life. I am very proud of him because of the way he drives, the way he interacts with people, his persona. I think I'm very proud of that.
So as long as he stays the way he is, that's gonna continue. I see no reason why it wouldn't. I think he's going to win a lot of races. I don't think there's any question of that. When you look, he's 19. I think my record, I think he's going to blow away those records pretty easily, which I have no problem with, by the way.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Am I a better driver? I think I'd like to say yes. He's scared to race me these days, and I think it's probably because of his age. He knows he doesn't stand a chance. He doesn't like playing golf with me any more because he knows he can't beat me.
I don't know. The biggest thing is you're looking at two completely different time periods. Although it's still open-wheel racing, I believe it's far different from when he was there, especially after the split. We all knew that period of time, it was far different. Obviously the cars are different. The concept is the same. In the IndyCar Series, especially on the ovals, the cars run a lot closer than they did in the past. It's more of a pack-racing type series. I don't know, he can explain the difference a little better.
I always tried to carry on the same beliefs that he had, that you're never good enough to not drive everything that you can, whether it be sports cars, IndyCars. If I could do LeMans, I've done Sebring a couple times, done the 24 Hours of Daytona a few times. Not only are those things really fun for me, but to be a very accomplished driver, you have to do all of those things.
I think that's something I've carried over from his time. But now a days, you don't see it as much because of how busy everybody is constantly, especially with this schedule. I mean, we're on, what, eight straight weekends or something like that. There's no time to do anything else.
THE MODERATOR: Guys, we appreciate your time. Thank you very much.
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