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Q&A with driver Graham Rahal
The motorhome went pitch black and Graham Rahal tried to wind down and sleep.

The time: He’s not sure — probably after 10:30 Thursday night.

The 21-year-old driver’s planned going-to-bed routine? Upset by a scary storm that hit Newton and Iowa Speedway about a half-hour later.

“I’m laying there and the bus starts shaking,” said Rahal, who will drive for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in Sunday’s Iowa Corn 250 as part of a one-race deal — for now. “And I’m convinced someone, like one of the other drivers, is outside shaking (it)....So I looked outside and, of course, you can’t see the wind, but the lightning was going off and everything. And it was strong enough to rattle it pretty good. Then I wake up (Friday) morning to find out all the tornadoes that were in North Dakota and Iowa.”

Rahal barnstormed through some central Iowa media outlets Friday, and during a visit to The Des Moines Register’s downtown offices, talked about his part-time status in the IndyCar Series, the Big Ten Conference’s expansion (he’s a big Ohio State fan), and his subdued 21st birthday celebration in January.

Q: Did you feel safe in the motorhome as it shook?

A: They’re pretty safe generally. We got caught in the same thing at Kansas last year and it started tornado-ing outside the track. They tried to get us to evacuate and I told a couple people that were with me, “You know, unless we see some tent poles flying or something, we’ll just stay here.” It’s fine. I don’t know how much they weigh, but it’s huge. It’s big.

Q: Any concrete plans for this season beyond Iowa?

A: Right now, it’s just here. It’s just a one-race deal in the Dad’s Root Beer car, but I hope it expands, I hope it goes into more (races), because certainly for me to try to add to the amount of races I’ve done this year — and I’ve been doing kind of a partial schedule, but it’s a good opportunity for me. Unfortunately, it comes at the expense of Mike (Conway), who fractured a vertebrae in a last-lap wreck at the Indy 500, which is never good — it’s never a way you want to get a ride.

Q: Being a huge Buckeyes fan, how do you view the Big Ten adding Nebraska and expansion in general?

A: I think it’s important they added another football school like Nebraska. Because over the past several years – Iowa was strong last year, Penn State tends to be on and off — but over the last several years, the Buckeyes have been really the only consistent strong team. So I think there needs to be more competition in the Big Ten. And I think it would be cool to see a Big Ten championship of sorts, because the problem is, from the time we (Ohio State) played our last game until the time the Rose Bowl was last year, it’s a huge layoff compared to everybody else. So I think it’s important to kind of keep playing so we can show better, because, everybody knows, we haven’t shown too well as a conference over the last several years.

Q: What was it like being in limbo after three seasons with Newman/Haas Racing?

A: Last October, I agreed to a new contract with Newman/Haas for two years. And they said we’re all set. Needless to say, months went on. I kept asking for them to send the contract they promised. And they had made it known to other teams that they had pulled me off the market, so everybody knew — “OK, you know what? He’s set.” Then all of a sudden — they never even told me they weren’t going to race (a second car) this year. Basically, they started preparing one car to go to the first open test of the year. … I’d driven there for three years, so I thought, “Well, last minute, the contract would come.” But it never came, so it was extremely unexpected. It was extremely disappointing, but unfortunately it’s the name of the game.

Q: Anything remotely wild about your 21st birthday last January?

A: My 21st birthday, honestly, was with my family and my girlfriend, who was actually a Hawkeye (a former swimmer at Iowa) for a year or two, and basically a couple of friends. We went to dinner and just kind of hung out. Honestly, I’m not the partying type whatsoever. … I think maybe we went bowling, or something. Des Moines Register

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