Graham Rahal entered his team’s hospitality trailer and quickly filled a plate with as much food as would fit. After mingling with his crew members for a few moments, he was whisked away for a media interview in the team’s trailer. When he emerged, the food was gone, but more meetings and interviews awaited him.
It’s a busy time to be Graham Rahal.
On the track, a strong second-place finish at Barber Motorsports Park last month elevated him to eighth in the IndyCar points standings, building consistency in a so-far-impressive 2015 season after years of disappointing results—especially when measured against his famous last name.
“A driver’s self-confidence is everything,” explains team owner, Graham’s father, and 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal. “He’s had good cars and strong races. Every time you go to the racetrack, you’re excited about it. Last year, unfortunately, because it wasn’t such a good atmosphere, I think he probably didn’t look forward to coming to some of the races.”
While Graham charged through the field two weekends ago, a lot of the attention went to Bobby. No longer watching races from atop the team’s pit box, Graham says not having his father in his ear, calling race strategy, is not as big a deal as people have made it out to be.
“It’s blown out of proportion a little bit,” Graham said between Thursday’s two practice sessions at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “Dad’s an emotional guy, and we both got at it a couple of times, but I think that the truth is we need to control our emotions better, which I think we’re doing now.”
Off the track, the 26-year-old Rahal is noted for his relationship with NHRA funny-car driver Courtney Force; the two form one of auto racing’s power couples. Having been engaged since November 2014, Graham believes his personal and professional lives are separate, and that where he is personally doesn’t correlate to his performance on the track.
“The engagement, my wedding … it isn’t on my mind on a day like today,” Graham said. “Having the partners we have on board, having the guys surrounding me, that’s what’s changed the most. I feel a very high amount of responsibility to perform for them more than anything else.”
The expectations were never too high for the younger Rahal, but the team couldn’t deliver, and the emotions got the best of the family. With a set of new sponsors, including Steak ‘n Shake, on the car for the month of May, Graham may be getting the credit, but both Rahals admit it’s been a total team effort.
Graham has been reunited with Martin Pare, head of vehicle ride control development, who just came out of a two-year retirement and is helping to push the pedal on the driver’s renaissance. The team, like the ninth-year driver they support, is surprisingly experienced. On a fundamental level, the team is stronger, and the elder Rahal understands that it’s the team members who will be responsible for a achieving success, regardless of the father-son narratives that dominate the headlines.
“I have to be an owner, more so than a father,” Bobby says. “It’s not just all about him. It’s all about everyone else on the team, too.”