BRISTOL — It wasn’t the extreme ride Graham Rahal is accustomed to, but taking the Bristol Motor Speedway pace car around the high-banked short track was a thrill he won’t soon forget.
The Indy Car driver, who was in town to watch girlfriend Courtney Force race her Funny Car in the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, sped around the .533-mile oval as the tires squealed on the specially painted Ford Mustang.
While he was nowhere near the 230 mph he reached in practice for the Indianapolis 500, Rahal exited the car with a wide smile following his hot laps.
“I didn’t know fully what to expect coming to Bristol, whether it be for the drag races for Courtney or to turn some laps,” he said. “When they offered me the opportunity to drive, I couldn’t resist. It was amazing. It’s truly a very cool place and I honestly think we should get an Indy Car out here and try it.”
Rahal, a one-time winner in the IndyCar Series, is the 25-year-old son of former Indianapolis 500 champion Bobby Rahal. He drives for the team owned by his father, businessman Michael Lanigan and television talk show host David Letterman.
The trip to Bristol has already made a strong impression on Rahal, also a former winner at the 24 Hours of Daytona. He believes Bristol deserves mention in the same breath as Indianapolis and Daytona as the top racing venues in the country.
“What makes races cool is the atmosphere, the facilities,” Rahal said. “I’ve gone to a bunch of drag races and you come here and it’s the nicest place I’ve seen. To come here and see this track, it’s no wonder it’s everybody’s favorite, it’s simply the atmosphere. I can’t imagine what it’s like for a Cup race or the football game coming up. It’s incredible.”
Rahal believes the downforce levels and horsepower could be adjusted on the Indy Cars to make them Bristol-friendly. He’s also had serious discussions with fellow National Guard-sponsored driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. about switching rides for an exhibition.
However, there is a snag since Rahal drives a Honda IndyCar, while Earnhardt is one of Chevrolet’s top stock car drivers. It’s still something Rahal wants to do, especially if he can work a stock car race at Bristol into the deal.
“This is the top of my list of places I would like to race,” he said. “At the end of the day, I hope it happens. I think if I were a Chevy driver in IndyCar, that would be an easy thing for us to go around and have some fun. Of course, Junior is not a normal driver for Chevrolet and it’s pretty important for him to stay in a Chevy.”
Experiences like going around BMS in the pace car and seeing what his girlfriend does by rocketing down a drag strip in excess of 300 mph gives him a greater appreciation of all forms of motorsports. He pointed out that NASCAR driver Kurt Busch felt the same appreciation after finishing sixth in last month’s Indianapolis 500.
“IndyCar, there are no bad guys anymore,” Rahal said. “In Cup, it’s one of the most competitive forms of motorsport in the world. In drag racing, I sure wouldn’t do what she does. Everybody that’s involved in racing appreciates what everybody does because it’s all very different.”
Rahal, who drove for actor Paul Newman earlier in his career, currently ranks 19th in the IndyCar points. However, things have gone better in recent weeks including a runner-up finish on the Detroit street circuit.
Still, he knows the Rahal-Letterman team has a little ways to go to catch up with the top teams from Andretti Autosport, Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing.
“Our goals are to win a race or two this season,” he said. “We’re learning a lot at this point. Our cars have a lot of fine details that make a big difference. It’s like in Cup where Hendrick seems to dominate because they have the fine details down that it seems nobody else does. It’s the same reason, Penske, Ganassi and Andretti have such good cars. Yesterday, we tested at Iowa and we were the quickest of everybody, so we’re starting to learn and find our way.”comments powered by Disqus