The Other Side Of Graham Rahal
Over the years, I’ve been accused more than once of being unkind to Graham Rahal. His supporters claim that it’s people like me that have put way too much pressure on the young driver that won the first time he ever sat in an IndyCar at the age of nineteen. No offense to his supporters, but anyone accomplishing that feat would have pressure on them – no matter the age. There’s nowhere to go but down at that point.
Most reasonable fans knew that a nineteen year-old would struggle to match that first outing. But seven years later, we’re all still wondering when the second-generation will finally find victory lane for a second time. Because of this, many have labeled Graham Rahal as an underachiever. I’ve joined that chorus at times, myself.
But what has led to my Rahal-bashing over the years has been the way he flaunts his cavalier lifestyle. Trust me – I do not fault anyone for making money or even being born into an affluent family. That’s the American dream and to hold a grudge against anyone that is successful or wealthy is reverse snobbery.
That being said – I follow Graham Rahal on Twitter, along with 64,000 other people. I also follow other drivers, as well. While the other drivers post pictures of family, tweet about their latest practice in the car or playfully spar with other drivers – Graham Rahal mostly boasts about his travels to exotic locations, his cars and motorcycles and his way too attractive girlfriends. You get the impression he enjoys rubbing our collective noses in a lifestyle that few can relate to.
I will say that I have enjoyed following the courtship and subsequent engagement to drag-racing star Courtney Force; daughter of the legendary John Force. I’ll also admit to some friendly sparring with him on Twitter this past football season regarding the SEC vs the Big Ten. It was friendly until the Big Ten had a more successful bowl season than the SEC and Rahal’s Ohio State Buckeyes knocked Alabama out of the playoff game.
I don’t necessarily dislike Graham Rahal, but I fully understand why there are so many that do. His off-track lifestyle and demeanor coupled with his on-track performance has generated a backlash against him with many fans. You used to be able to blame it on youth, but Rahal is now twenty-six. An old goat like me still considers that young, but in the racing world – he’s in his prime.
Since he’s been in the series, I’ve probably had more negative things to say about Rahal than positive. You wouldn’t know it by what you’ve read so far, but this will actually be a positive musing about the young Rahal before it’s over.
I’ve been around long enough to realize that we fans sometimes want things both ways. We don’t like it when drivers sound like a corporate automaton and deliver one pre-packaged sound bite after another. On the other hand, we complain when drivers speak their mind, when we don’t care for what they have to say. Tuesday night, Graham Rahal was a guest on Trackside. What I heard was a refreshing blast of fresh air.
First of all, Rahal was very candid about the aero kits. He admitted he had seen the Honda kit, but was not allowed to talk about them at all. In the next breath, he was telling listeners that the Honda kit was extremely radical looking and looked nothing like the DW12 that we’ve been looking at for the past three seasons. When asked if he was afraid of the unknown in hitting the track next month with something he had never driven before – he gave the honest answer of “yes”, but he went further.
Instead of giving the politically correct answer that Honda had done their homework and he was sure Chevy had done their’s too – he explained that one of the manufacturers were going to hit on the right package and the other was going to be left scratching their heads. What I really liked about his answer was when he went on to say “that’s the way racing should be” because that competition is the only way that innovation and development will ever take place. He further explained that was the problem with spec-racing; because there was no incentive to find that extra edge.
After being completely frank on the aero kits, Rahal tackled another monumental topic – his pending nuptials with Courtney Force. He was very blunt in revealing that he had found out what married men have known for centuries – there is no right answer. He said he tried being agreeable in turning all decisions over to his bride-to-be. She informed him that he was to be involved with all decisions. But when she asked his opinion and he gave it to her – she informed him how wrong he was.
Had he left it alone, he probably would have been OK. But he continued to share several stories of the experiences that all married or soon-to-be married men have been through. His inexperience was showing when he failed to shut up. I felt sorry for him, for the earful he was sure to be getting about five minutes after his broadcast. It’s probably just as well that he was at NOLA testing with the team instead of facing the future Mrs. Rahal later that night.
For whatever reason, I suddenly found Graham Rahal much more likeable than I ever had since he first came over from Champ Car in 2008. Maybe engagement and a future wedding is making him grow up and give real-world answers. For the first time ever, I felt like we were seeing (or hearing) a new side of Graham Rahal we never knew existed. My hope is that we didn’t just catch Graham Rahal in a strange mood, and that we will see this much more likeable side of him from this point forward.
I’m not going to sit here and psychoanalyze what has brought about this transformation in Rahal. I’m much too shallow to be able to do that, and quite frankly – I really don’t care about the why. I’m just going to enjoy it and hope he has permanently gotten away from blaming everyone but himself for his misfortunes. If he can continue to answer questions honestly and with blunt candor and exhibit this other side; I may become a full-time Graham Rahal fan.
Please Note: With the upcoming President’s Day holiday on Monday; I’ve made some plans for the weekend that will not allow me to write, so I’ll be taking a short break. I’ll return here on Wednesday Feb 18. If you’re off like me, enjoy the weekend. – GP