Rahal: 'I've always felt that this was my path in life'
Graham Rahal noshes on jalapenos straight from the jar, enjoys playing Nintendo Wii while hanging out with friends in his crib above the four-car garage, apologizes for his room being in disarray and savors Honey Nut Cheerios and chocolate milk for breakfast. So what makes him different from other teenagers?
Just that the 19-year-old enters the IndyCar Series with a tradition-rich and successful Indy-car racing team, will compete against (among others) his father's established and successful team, and carries the legacy of one of motorsports' most renowned names to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May. It's pretty heady stuff for someone who graduated from New Albany High School nine months ago.
But the second son of Bob and Debi Rahal isn't fazed -- and hasn't been since his karting days -- by racing expectations based on his surname. The affable young man, who has been schooled since he can remember at the side of his championship-winning father, also is grounded in a work ethic that is a prerequisite to – and advised for continued -- success.
"It's really a double-edged sword," says Rahal, who last year had a high finish of second and was fifth in the Champ Car World Series standings in his rookie season with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing. "You get the bonuses but at the same time there is a lot of pressure to do well. It's the same for anybody – like Marco (Andretti) and A.J. Foyt IV -- that carries a name. Anybody inside the racing community realizes that everybody has to learn and grow, and obviously at my age especially a lot of people recognize that it's going to take a little time. To a lot of fans, they think you're going to win right away because you have the name. Unfortunately, that's not the case. I wish it were."
Meaningful expectations are self-imposed – whether it's logging miles on a bike to prepare the body for the rigorous season or logging data for a high school project. Take the latter example. While maybe many seniors at New Albany High in suburban Columbus might have cobbled a term paper, Rahal restored a 1964 Mini Cooper S. Got an A, too, which he proudly points out at the front of a 4-inch-thick categorized binder of notes, paint samples and photographs.
"My real passion is just cars; I love working on cars," says Rahal, who has plans to install a super-charger on his passenger SUV's engine when he extracts some time over the next few months. "There are a lot of drivers who love driving the car but don't care about the mechanical side. I'm the opposite. I love driving but I have a lot of interest in the mechanical side.
"When I was 5 or 6 years old, my dad had an old green Mini. Oddly enough, it was close to the same year as the one I just rebuilt. At the time I kept telling him, 'This is my first car; this is what I want.' When I was about 11, he sold it. It's one of those things as a kid you see these cars and they are kind of engraved in your soul forever. When the time came to do this project, I just decided, 'Well, if there's one car I really wanted it was a Mini. I found the car in Bowling Green, Ohio. I worked on this thing so hard; everything is redone. The car is so nice I struggle to drive it now. Just to hear the door shut makes me cringe because I just think it's going to break." More at IndyCar.com