Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing landed the coveted Army National Guard sponsorship this February, making Graham Rahal only the second IndyCar driver from the U.S. to pilot the car that serves as an emblem of national pride. “As an American, to get to represent the National Guard, I don’t think there’s anything more meaningful,” says Rahal, son of racing icon Bobby Rahal. As the 25-year-old approaches the turning point of his racing career, this room at his Carmel home serves as a retreat where personal relics remind him of what it took to get here.
“I’ve always loved pinball because when I was a little kid, my dad had a machine at the house. So I found this Indy 500 one and had a friend restore it.”
Rahal’s helmets are painted by Art Rotondo, based in Montreal. The average price for a custom design is $800 to $1,200.
The year 2011 marked the 100th anniversary of both the Indy 500 and Colt Firearms. “I was sponsored by Colt that year, so they made about five of these commemorative Colt 1911 pistols.” An image of Rahal’s car is engraved into the side.
Each of Rahal’s cubbyholes reflects a different year of his career—holding the helmet from that year and the bottle of champagne that was given to him. “But if there’s a bottle of champagne and no helmet, it was a bad year, so I sold the helmet.” His rookie year helmet remains, featuring real gold leaf.
“When I won my first race, I wasn’t allowed to spray champagne because I was underage. So Dave [Letterman, co-owner of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing] decided to send me some. The bottle is six years old, and it has never been opened, surprisingly.” Rahal later was a guest on The Late Show and sprayed a bottle of champagne into the audience.
Rahal, an avid golf fan, proudly displays memorabilia from Tiger Woods’s first pro victory in Las Vegas. “I met Fluff, Woods’s former caddie, as a kid. Fluff was there when Tiger won his first tournament, and he decided to give me his caddie vest.”
In 2008, Rahal became the youngest driver to win an open-wheel race
When Rahal was driving for Newman/Haas Racing in 2008, team owner Paul Newman was diagnosed with cancer. “This is the letter Paul wrote me about six months before he passed away. He quite possibly shaped my life more than my dad, in many respects. On the charitable side of things I do now, all are linked to him.”
Photo by Tony Valainis
This article appeared in the May 2014 issue.