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Bobby Rahal: "I'd hire him, but I can't afford him"
Graham Rahal lifts trophy high
Scott Morris/AutoRacing1
Carl Haas stood aside the black race car and held his arms wide, a chomped cigar in his left hand. Bobby Rahal, a few feet away, just beamed.

"Thanks for the driver," said Haas.

"Thanks for giving him the chance," Rahal said quietly, pulling Haas in for a hug.

Their careers defined by decades of racing brilliance, they'd been disarmed on a runway-turned-pit road by the 19-year-old kid who'd been led through a throng to raise his Grand Prix of St. Petersburg champion's trophy. In this moment, they were Graham Rahal's boss and his father.

Graham Rahal became just the fourth driver to win his first Indy Racing League IndyCar start and the youngest at 19 years, 93 days old to win a major open-wheel race. He's now the standard-bearer for Champ Car's refugees after just their second start in their once-rival series. In the process he became a famous father's suddenly famous son.

And ultimately, the fourth annual Grand Prix won't be remembered for rain. It may be remembered as the day Graham Rahal became the next American racing star and being a Rahal got a lot easier.

"I can tell you it got a lot lighter just about an hour ago," he laughed. "For a long time there, a lot of people that kind of — if you're not winning every weekend, a lot of people kind of doubt it. But certainly this just worked out perfectly."

Chief mechanic Donnie Hoevel said a month ago the team, which won the final four Champ Car titles, would not catch up to the rest of the IRL until December. Christmas came early. Or was it Labor Day?

"Hard work," he said. "There's a lot of good guys here."

Among them Graham Rahal, who has long stressed his desire to be his own man, not take what he sees as the easy, easily discounted route of racing for his father. Landing a job with Newman/Haas/Lanigan last year gave him that freedom. Until unification, he and his father didn't even race in the same series, but he treasured the chance for his father to stand over his car as he pulled off his helmet on Sunday. There would be no sharing of this moment on a cell phone. But it didn't get any more likely he'd race for his father one day.

"I'd hire him, but I can't afford him," Bobby smiled. "Not now." TampaBay.com

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