A Sponsor You Can Cheer For

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Over the years, I’ve taken my fair of shots at Graham Rahal – some deserved, some maybe not. As I wrote a few weeks ago; I heard something in his voice when he was interviewed on Trackside that told me that we may be looking at a new and improved Graham Rahal. He seemed more mature, more focused and most importantly – more likeable. I attributed it to age and the fact that he is now engaged. Whatever the case, I found myself hoping that the second generation driver would have a much improved season this year.

Unfortunately, the old Graham Rahal resurfaced at St. Petersburg this past weekend. I really want to like Graham Rahal. I really do. He has so much going for him, and the series could benefit from his having a dominant presence. It’s too bad that he can be really hard to like sometimes, but believe me – I’m still trying.

Last week, I did find a reason to pull for Graham Rahal. It was announced last Tuesday that one of my favorite restaurant chains, Steak ‘n Shake, would be sponsoring Rahal for five races this season – including the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis 500.

I’ve been a fan of Steak ‘n Shake for years. Until recently, I was working in a location for over three years that had one just down the street. To say that I ate there frequently would be an understatement. Unfortunately, my new work location doesn’t have one nearby. Last Wednesday, I was out of the office for half the day and found myself fairly close to one at lunchtime. I pulled in and dined there, simply because they had chosen to become an IndyCar sponsor.

It seems that we don’t often get a chance to vote with our dollars and support the sponsors that support IndyCar. We can switch to Verizon and buy Firestone tires, but there aren’t too many chances beyond that. I do frequent Target on a regular basis. I’ve looked for Fuzzy’s Premium Vodka in Nashville, but have come up empty so far. I’m not in the market for a new television, so I can’t really support Hitachi. I don’t smoke, so there is no need for me to support any of the e-cigs that have supported IndyCar recently.

I don’t have any use for a crane, so Mi-Jack is not a company I can support. I rarely ship anything, so I can’t help DHL out – although I did drink Sun-Drop when they sponsored Ryan Hunter-Reay, but not now. I prefer Mountain Dew. I was a Boy Scout and have made contributions to them as an adult. Likewise, I made a contribution last year to Susan G. Komen. Once Pippa Mann is confirmed in the car, I’ll gladly make another contribution.

Bowers and Wilkins is not a company I can help – even if I were in the market for a new sound system. They are just a tad bit out of my price range. I don’t own a construction company, so there is no way I can help ABC Supply. Arrow and Spyder are partners with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Although Arrow was the company that developed the car that Sam Schmidt drove at IMS last May, I’m not exactly sure what either company does, but I don’t think I’m a potential prospect for either. NTT Data is another company that I appreciate their help, but not real sure what they do.

But Steak ‘n Shake? That’s different. I’ll be honest, until I read last week’s press-release – I didn’t know they were based in Indianapolis. I knew there were tons of them in Indiana, but never really knew where they were based. Lately I’ve considered Indianapolis my adopted hometown, so that’s an even better reason to eat there.

I wish more sponsors that we have heard of would get involved in IndyCar. Not only does it help the overall visibility of the series, but it helps when we can all show our support with our wallets. How much was my bill for a Grilled Portobello & Swiss with fries and a glass of water, plus tip? $7.00. Assuming you have a Steak ‘n Shake in your area, we can all afford to show our appreciation to them for getting involved in the series.

But please understand – it’s not like I was looking for a reason to eat at Steak ‘n Shake. I already loved going there. But now that they are the primary sponsor on Graham Rahal’s car for five races, I’ll go out of my way to eat there even more. But more importantly, it has given me another reason to try to pull for Graham Rahal.

As I mentioned earlier; some say I’ve been a little hard on Graham over the years. But I feel like he’s hit rock-bottom after last season. Not only do I sense some maturity coming from him, I now notice there is some genuine humility in his voice that never used to be there – last weekend notwithstanding. I’m all about second chances if someone is genuine about changing their ways. Instead of the cocky and arrogant teenager that won his first race in the series, Graham Rahal is now a veteran that has experienced the low side of the sport and wants to improve. I can get behind someone like that, if he’ll give me a reason to.

But that’s not the only motivation to back someone. I’ll come up with the strangest reasons to suddenly pull for a driver that I never paid much attention to before. Maybe they’ve changed to a team that I like, or I like the looks of their livery. Maybe I’m a fan of their sponsor. Graham hasn’t changed teams, but he’s got a good looking car and a sponsor that I’ll be glad too support as often as I can.

Rahal was in the Mi-Jack car this past week at St. Petersburg, but he was carrying a retro-scheme that was a throwback to the orange and blue McLaren colors from the seventies. Next weekend at NOLA, he’ll be in another throwback livery – the D-A Lubricant Special that Bob Sweikert drove in his last 500 start in 1956. For five races, Rahal will be in the red Steak ‘n Shake car. It’s not a throwback, but it sure does look good.

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Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing gives every indication that they are vastly improved over a disastrous 2014. Last season made Graham Rahal and easy target for some pretty funny punch lines. He didn’t help his cause or his popularity by blaming everyone under the sun for his misfortunes.

But most IndyCar fans are a forgiving bunch. If he and his team can create and sustain some momentum and display a good attitude – all that and his good looking cars and popular sponsors will suddenly make Graham Rahal someone very easy to pull for – if he’ll just stop getting in his own way.

George Phillips

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20 Responses to “A Sponsor You Can Cheer For”

  1. Ken Riehl Says:

    There is no sponsor on the planet that would make me pull for GR, but I love Steak & Shake and eat there frequently…

  2. I’ll eat at S&S this week (I’m in Texas and S&S is a fairly new franchise in the area) and maybe I’ll tell them why. But it’ll probably be like when I renewed at Verizon and mentioned how cool it was that Verizon was sponsoring Indycar. The sales guy agreed but thought Indycar was the F1 race at COTA. As far as Rahal goes, he seems to be a little snakebit and a little bit of a victim of expectations but doesn’t help his cause by blaming others.

  3. SkipinSC Says:

    Last week, when I finally got in to the new S & S near my neighborhood, the waitress asked if I had been to S & S before. “Absolutely,” I said, ” I grew up in Indianapolis and I’ve been going to S & S since before you were born.” Sadly, even though she was probably in her late 30’s /early 40’s, it was likely true.

  4. I admire your loyalty to sponsors. I don’t think sponsorship on a race car ever influenced my buying decisions. I wonder which of us is in the majority of fans?

    • Back in the day when companies like STP were the big sponsors and other auto products manufacturers, I think it did influence me to a degree. But in modern times with sponsors from every walk of life, I really have not paid much attention to who the sponsor is from the standpoint of buying the product. My guess is that’s pretty typical.

  5. jhall14 Says:

    Love S&S and the livery.George,if you have a Kroger in your area, they carry Fuzzy’s here in Indiana.Just a thought.

    • We have Kroger here, but that does me no good. Strange as it seems, the only alcohol you can buy in grocery stores in Tennessee is beer. Fortunately, that archaic law was changed last November. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go into effect until July 2016. – GP

  6. pete1945 Says:

    I like Graham. I’ve found him personable and accessible when I have met him. I hope his fiancé is the real deal this time. Would not want to tick off John Force.

    • I was touched when Graham mentioned Courtney as his inspiration during the St. Pete’s broadcast. And no, I wouldn’t want to anger John Force, he is a papa bear.

  7. I never heard of S&S until I moved to Louisville. They don’t have them in Colorado where I grew up. We have one down the street and they are good. The staff is really friendly too. I did not realize they were from Indianapolis. As far as GR; I am a disenchanted fan of his. I really want to like him. What is difficult for me to relate to is his attitude given what he has fallen into in his life. As probably everyone here I assume, the dream of becoming a race car driver is just that, a dream and quite the long shot to say the least and most of us have not come close to inheriting the resources and fortune of growing up in a racing family like the Rahal’s. Not many people are given the lot of a GR especially with the costs involved in going racing. Whats more, in his case is the talent he inherited as well. Those are two massive requirements to race IndyCars. I think there is a lesson here we can all learn from and that is, learning how to be appreciative, humble and just learning how to keep ones mouth shut. In this case, like any, attitude can take a person a long way. I thought Graham was so mature for his age when he won his first race. It seems like his personal development works in reverse for him at times.

  8. sejarzo Says:

    FYI, George, Spyder makes a lot of very expensive “active wear”–such as $159 rugby shirts that coordinate with their $129 shorts–and alpine skiing race suits–skin tight with Spiderman-like graphics. I can’t exactly see you parading around IMS in May wearing any of their stuff. On the other hand, a pic of you wearing one of those ski race suits with HCN would be a hoot, to say the least.

    Arrow is one of those firms that’s quite large but not well known as it’s totally a B2B– distributor of electronic components and represents a variety of IT service firms.

  9. Sam Myers Says:

    My best friend has little interest in sports outside of watching them when he’s hanging out with me. He came over the other day with Steak n Shake and I told him they were sponsoring a car for the 500. He immediately looked up and said “that’s who I’m rooting for!”
    It’d be great to see more food companies come on board because that’s a sponsor everybody can support and connect with.

  10. Ron Ford Says:

    I had heard of S & S many times watching Letterman and would like to eat there, but we do not have one in Wisconsin. I prefer to avoid going to Illinois (no offense) for anything other than to get to Indy, so this will have to wait until May for me. S & S is my basic food chain.

  11. SOCSeven Says:

    Whenever I winter in Florida I make a point of hunting down the local Sonny’s BBQ. A long time Indycar supporter.

    Funny too. Last Spring Break they carded my wife. She’s over 60.

    • sejarzo Says:

      Sonny’s BBQ per se, as a corporation, doesn’t directly support Indycar. Dale Coyne owns a number of Sonny’s franchises in central Florida, which is why that’s been on DCR’s second car in recent years. Someone closer to that organization than me has suggested that Dale realized it was more efficient for him to own and run his own “sponsor” than hiring staff to constantly search for new funding year after year.

      • SOCSeven Says:

        Thanks. That’s much like the Porche that used to run in ALMS with a big picture of a turkey on the side. The driver owned a turkey farm & sponsored himself.

  12. Steak ‘n Shake combined with the Rahal name is great for IndyCar. The casual fan will recognize the name and the sponsor. This is a very good thing for IndyCar.

  13. I like Graham and I like Steak and Shake. Let’s go racing!

  14. the American mutt Says:

    He got robbed sunday. I don’t know how it wasn’t Karem with a blocking penalty. I don’t even like him, and felt like that penalty was just wrong.

  15. billytheskink Says:

    “No, I’ve always been a Graham Rahal fan”

    George, you don’t have to make a poll answer just for me (and apparently 3 other readers), but I do appreciate simply quoting the poll instead of giving my usual disclaimer. For all the shots at Rahal you may have taken, you are far kinder to him than a lot of Indycar fans.

    I’ve been a Steak & Shake fan ever since going to family reunion in Missouri close to 20 years ago. There are very few Steak & Shakes in my part of Texas, but there is one close enough for me to frequent from time-to-time. Garlic Steakburger with Buffalo sauce and Extra Buffalo sauce and a side of chili, please.

    I have not been this excited about an Indycar sponsorship since it was revealed that Marco Andretti was going to drive an RC Cola car. I have rooted for Jeremy Mayfield and Stacy Compton just because they were sponsored by RC Cola and I used to reset my Sega Saturn version of the Andretti Racing video game just to see if it would put me in the RC Cola car for the next race.
    This is about as cool, perhaps more so since “I’ve always been a Graham Rahal fan”. I would root for pretty much anyone in a Steak & Shake car, but to have one of my favorite drivers in the car is doubly great. Hope they print t-shirts.

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