The Other Side Of Graham Rahal

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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.

George Phillips

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

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22 Responses to “The Other Side Of Graham Rahal”

  1. First to read and first to vote again. But no comment about underperforming playboys Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti.

    • Phil Kaiser Says:

      That’s great… you were first! Hooray!

      Now, do you actually have anything to say? NO?

      Then what’s the point?

  2. Here’s hoping that there are more times that Graham Rahal has got something else besides Mi-Jack on the car this season because that can help Team Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan to become race winners again.

    The young and focussed guy who won for Newman/Haas is still in him, and throughout the year with the National Guard as his sponsor, he has learned to not put too much pressure on himself anymore. I believe that off he had at the chicane in Sonoma last year whilst in the lead and getting told by his dad that he had to pit was the turning point. In fact, the focussed guy was never gone: he was the first driver to run on a street course for Sarah Fisher’s then oval-centric team (scoring a 9th place in the process), helped build Ganassi’s B-Team, and he helped rebuild the IndyCar effort of RLL after they had been gone from IndyCar for several years, taking over that duty from Takuma Sato. During the latter process, I have often wondered about Taku’s choices in setup because they don’t seem to have worked at all for Graham only a year later. For his win with AJ Foyt’s team, Taku had Mike Conway’s street circuit setup from one year earlier to draw from, and look how just how fast the Foyt team disappeared from the front of the points standings after that win in that year.
    Graham’s domains seem to be the street circuits and the 1 1/2 milers. So I’m expecting/hoping Team Rahal to score several Top 10 results at those this year – if the aero kit is any good.

    Yet, winning for your dad’s team might be harder than winning for your own, as was showcased in recent ears by Ed Carpenter, now of CFH Racing.

    By the way: George, do you expect to see a comeback of Dragon Racing making a one-off entry at the Indy 500 this year?

  3. If what Graham Rahal does in his life bothers you so much, why follow him on Twitter?? How do you find the time? Sheesh, actual racing cannot begin soon enough.

    • Phil Kaiser Says:

      Why would a near 60 year old man follow ANYONE on Twitter? Isn’t that for kids? Hell, I won’t even do Facebook!

      Must be a mid-life crisis thang (yes, I said “thang” on purpose….).

      • I’m 56, Phil. I follow drivers and IndyCar media types on Twitter for IndyCar news. Most things hit Twitter LONG before they hit the usual IndyCar media outlets. It’s also a good way to gauge fan reaction. That allows me to say that I’m writing something that most people agree or disagree with. If you think Twitter is for kids, you need to move beyond the floppy disk and fax machine. – GP

        • I agree George. Facebook is the way I keep up with family, far away kin and friends. I also get the news I want to get. Pretty cool.

  4. I honestly have little interest in the lives of athletes. I guess my view of most of them is pretty negative from the get go, as far as their personal lives go. There are not many Jeff Gordon’s. Plus, I can’t imagine following anybody on Twitter. Life is too short.

    Except for their names and family, Andretti and Rahal would probably not be in Indycar today. But you see nepotism everywhere and auto racing is no different.

    As race drivers, they succeed or fail on the track. How both of them have done is pretty obvious.

  5. I listened to him on trackside and was also refreshed by his honesty. I also was cringing when he kept going on about his fiancee, all I could think was “put the shovel down dude, you are digging yourself a bigger hole”

  6. I stopped following GR on Twitter 2-3 years ago. I think it was not long after he bragged about driving a Lambo at triple digits on the highway. I thought, here’s a guy who gets to drive the fastest race cars in the world everyday and it’s not enough for him. He and Marco both grew up rich and had their racing careers handed to them. MA doesn’t pretend to be a regular guy. He lives the life of rich celebrity and makes no apologies for it. GR seems like he wants to be thought of as the hard working, blue-collar, aw-shucks, guy while still having all the perks of a young, rich, race driver. So, I’m not a fan of MA or GR but Marco gets some respect for being honest about who his is.

  7. elmondohummus Says:

    No insult directed at George here, but I find it funny that any Indycar fan would think Rahal’s lifestyle is “exotic” and engage in any backlash because of it. Compared to, say, an F1 driver, he’s positively mundane; Mercedes’ F1 driver Nico Rosberg actually *lives* in Monaco, for crying out loud. Lewis Hamilton moved their himself. And neither live what you can call a “restrained” lifestyle.

    Tweets of sunsets from Tahiti are pretty exotic, but an exotic vacation hardly compares to living that sort of lifestyle.

    While it’s true we often judge public personas too fast based on too little information, we also often fail to add the context necessary to make sure we’ve got it right. There’s plenty of context available out there to see what a genuinely exotic lifestyle is like. Graham’s is definitely higher class than mine, but it’s downright proletarian compared to, say, a high end movie star’s, or a top flight English Premier League footballer (David Beckham, anyone?). Sure, Graham’s Twitter feed does have a lot of Tweets about locations and toys, but it’s hardly the sum total of what he thinks and experiences, much less what he values. I take his feed more as “Oh, cool!” reactions more than anything else; I certainly don’t see him rubbing anyone’s nose in anything he does.

    Again, no rip on George at all. He wrote about the epiphany that came from listening to someone in an in-depth interview after just paying attention to one thing Graham made public (his Tweets). He describes a transformative journey that’s well worth pondering when thinking about how we view any sports figure, politician, popular entertainer, and the like. It’s too easy to judge a person’s Tweets, or self-promotion images, or other acts in a vacuum of context. But without judging with that context, we risk inaccuracy by being hyperbolic. And we lose the opportunity to make a genuinely on-point observation. It’s something I myself forget all the damn time and need to remember.

  8. billytheskink Says:

    As always when I comment on a Graham Rahal topic, I feel it is important and fair to disclose that I have been a fan of Bobby, Graham, and the Rahal team for many years.

    The Graham Rahal I heard on Trackside the other night is not all that different from the Graham Rahal I have encountered at several races over the years. It has been my experience that he is as friendly and engaging with fans as any driver in the series and that he promotes the series outside of the races about as much as any driver. I understand why he rubs some people the wrong way, especially with his use of social media his inability to meet the lofty expectations that so many (myself included) placed upon him, but I do think his status Indycar’s most popular punching bag is not wholly deserved.

    A mildly relevant anecdote: I was at a race a couple of years ago, not an Indycar race, wearing an old Graham Rahal-Conquest Racing crew shirt from his time in the Atlantic series. A lady spotted it from across the grandstand section, came over to compliment the shirt, and proceeded to tell me that she had worked for Gehl Construction Equipment back when they sponsored Graham’s Atlantic car (they are still a personal sponsor, I believe). She was effusive about Graham and her time working with him during that Gehl sponsorship and asked if she could take a photograph to send to him, saying he would get a kick out of it. I agreed, and sure enough, she came back a bit later and showed me a short message from Graham about the photo.

    • Phil Kaiser Says:

      I must agree with billy here: while not being a Bobby or Graham Rahal fan in the least I caught up with Graham last May in the Garages at the IMS and got an autograph. He was very friendly and of course once a driver stops for one, a crowd usually forms. Graham engaged us all like he was just another fan and when he was through he kinda just stood there, looked around and said “anyone need anything else?” Then he casually strolled away. My opinion of him changed drastically on the spot. But then I got to watch him the rest of the month and he was always the same: chatty, engaged and willing to stand there until everyone got what they wanted. I don’t care if he wins another race, HIS kind of approach and attitude towards the fans are exactly what IndyCar needs right NOW!

  9. More than once Graham has flashed a look at what he could be like if things were good all the time and we are so eager for him to do well that we jump on his new found “maturity”. He seems like an okay guy but greatness is what you do when things are bad and not going your way, so far he has been less than stellar. Hope I’m wrong, as it would be good for the series, but I think we’ll see the old Graham soon.

  10. You won’t find this on twitter, but Graham has been paying for buses to haul Indy area fans to the Milwaukee Mile race.

  11. Rather than concern myself with a driver’s lifestyle I’d rather concentrate on performance. I am a bit put off by Graham and Marco but that’s irrelevant to the sport. Neither Graham or Marco have lived up to their opportunities. Why? Lack of talent? – I don’t think so. Bad equipment? – Certainly not. Bad luck? You make you own luck. What’s left? Lack of committment? – definitely. The lifestyle issues are clear evidence of this. What they both need is to cut the parental apron stings and drive for another team who will fire you if you don’t perform. The unfortunate thing is that they’re keeping 2 deserving, hard working drivers out of good rides.

  12. Being from and residing in Columbus, OH, I grew up rooting for Bobby with my father. The split happened as I entered HS and them college (Go Bucks!) and when reunification happened I was a fan again with another Rahal to cheer for. It was a hell of a start but following him on twitter was a mistake. I didn’t care for his attitude and quickly became a Scott Dixon fan. I was ready to take him in again when he joined Ganassi. His attitude got in the way when he felt he was playing third fiddle to the two greatest IndyCar drivers of the last 20 years. He ran back to his father. Had he been patient and tried to learn from Dario and Dixon, he would be driving the 10 car and winning races. Instead, he is a backmarker and possibly holding his Dad’s team back. I really want to root for Little Rahal, but I just cannot do it.

  13. I think it is worth noting that even before driving in the IndyCar series Graham Rahal also won 5 races in the Champ Car Atlantic Series in 2006 and finished 2nd in the seasons standings. He also drove for Newman Haas Lanigan in 2007 as Sebastian Bourdais’ teammate as well as the youngest driver ever on the podium in Champ Car history. He had accomplished quite a lot before even joining IndyCar in 2008 when the 2 series merged. It greatly underserves Graham Rahal to label him an “underachiever” at this point of his life.

    Also I think accomplishments not mentioned in “the other series” before IndyCar merged need to be acknowledged and not avoided or ignored just because it was not the “IRL.” That just really irks me when the Champ Car Series is not recognized or counted in stats of current IndyCar drivers that existed before the 2008 merger.

    Ok now on to Twitter. I think twitter can do a lot of people a disservice. I did not know about all his bragging about cars, travels, hot girlfriends, etc until now and this is exactly why I don’t bother with twitter. Because most people misuse it and wind up with a less than ideal image because they just can’t keep their mouths shut. So, my already borderline opinion of him just worsened because of what I just read here. I will also say I used to like him a lot before about 2010 or so. I also listened to his interview on Trackside and I agree it was nice to hear some non-pc answers to some of the questions asked about the bodykits and other subjects. He does have a sense of humor too which can sure swing any negative characteristics a person may have in a positive direction.

    I really want to like GR but the jury is still out for me.

    • Without going back and reading what I wrote…if I failed to mention any of his Champ Car accomplishments, it was not intentional. It irks me, as well, when those stats are ignored – as if they didn’t happen. I’ve written about Graham Rahal many times. If you go back and read the other posts, I know I have listed his Champ Car stats. This post was not a complete review of his career, it was just a snapshot to show how it was all downhill since his 2008 win. – GP

      • I did not mean to come off as critical which I probably did. It just dawned on me as I was reading when I saw him win an Atlantic Series race at the Denver Grand Prix in 2007 I was completely impressed how such a young guy could run away like he did. He must have been 17 at that time. That solidified my following but it did go downhill from there and I remember being disappointed about the way I felt about him. I did not want him to take the spoiled rich kid route. I thought it was admirable that his Dad made him cut his own teeth and find sponsorship, funding all while driving for a team that was not Rahal and I really respected Bobby Rahal for not just saying “open up Graham” as he inserted the silver spoon in his mouth. The inevitable eventually solidified once Graham started driving for his Dad’s team it seemed. The complaining and excuse making were beginning hitting their all time highs. He was second on the time sheets at NOLA by second day which again is pretty impressive. Again , I want to like him. Maybe there is still a chance. I just like it when sons of famous fathers drive for teams other than those owned by their own fathers.

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