Already an IndyCar veteran at age 24, second-generation driver Graham Rahal has driven for some of the top names in auto racing: the late Paul Newman, Sarah Fisher, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Chip Ganassi and his current team, Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing – his father, 1986 Indy 500 champ Bobby Rahal, late-night television star David Letterman and long-time team owner Mike Lanigan. In spite of racing for numerous other teams, the younger Rahal always had a feeling he'd end up driving for his father.
"All along, he and I both felt that at some point that would happen," said Rahal in a recent interview, "but we were both always adamant that I would go out, particularly early in my career, and make my own name to a certain extent, so that's what I've worked on doing up to this point."
Rahal has been able to make a name for himself since 2007, his rookie season in CART, when he had a runner-up finish and three third-place finishes over 14 races. The following season, he went out and won in his first career IndyCar start at St. Petersburg, becoming the youngest winner in the series history (19 years, 93 days). Rahal got his start where many of today's drivers – in many racing series – get their start.
"I started when I was 10 years old and I started in go-karting, and go-karting is kind of where, traditionally, everyone nowadays is going to start," explained Rahal. "It's the easiest, cheapest – it's a sport where a lot of people have access to tracks regionally, so it's pretty common. My goal has always been to race in IndyCar. I stayed on the Formula car path for all my life, and that's what I've always committed myself to doing. From go-karts I came up through what we call the "feeder series" and made my way up."
Rahal, his four sisters and brother grew up around the sport – his brother works for RLR but has never driven – but there was never pressure from his three-time championship-winning father to get into the business.
"If anything, it was probably the opposite," remembers Rahal of growing up. "I think that's one of the biggest concerns for any son or daughter, growing up and being forced by a parent to do something. I was very fortunate with my family that that was never the case. But it was always my desire to do this, and I'm very fortunate that up to this point it's worked out."
Something that Rahal has become very active in, particularly after the 2010 season, which saw him race for four separate teams on a part-time basis, is finding sponsorship and doing whatever he can for those sponsors, which today include Midas, Big O Tires and blu eCigs.
"You want to be out there racing full-time, so when something like that happens and you're not, it's difficult to understand why, particularly at the age I was," said Rahal. "However, I think I took it in stride a little bit, in the sense that it wasn't ideal, but there's only one way to get myself back on the right path, and was to go out and take action, and find sponsors and do the best that I could and I think that we've done that, and particularly on the sponsorship front, since that time, I've been very active, very involved in sponsorship and it's served me quite well. Everybody has to take that lesson and go through that, and it's not an easy thing to accept, but it's very fortunate that it has worked out."
Heading to the next race, the Grand Prix of Houston double-header on October 5 and 6, Rahal has some confidence – he has a second-place finish there in CART in 2007 (he skipped his prom to compete there).
"I would say right now, my favorite (type of race) is the street courses, because that's what our team has excelled at recently – races like Houston," said Rahal. "Houston is one of those races where I feel I can really do a great job."
Currently 18th in points with three races remaining (the double-header at Houston and the finale at Auto Club Speedway in California), Rahal has no intentions of jumping ship to another series anytime soon – he's perfectly happy as an IndyCar driver.
"I love IndyCar racing – a lot of people have asked me if I have interest in doing other things, maybe going to NASCAR," said Rahal. "Truth is, I love it right where I'm at – I'd like to be one of the influential guys who helps this sport grow, so that's my focus."
Source: personal interview with Graham Rahal, September 26, 2013
Paula is a freelance writer and photographer specializing in motorsports. She also covers the sport at Examiner.com and Skirts & Scuffs.