LEXINGTON, Ohio — Graham Rahal craves winning the Indianapolis 500 as his father, Bobby, did in 1986, but even if doesn’t happen he can someday retire from the IndyCar circuit with a sense of peace.
That’s because he won the Honda Indy 200 two years ago on what’s considered his home track, the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, about an hour’s drive north of his New Albany birthplace.
“If had won (elsewhere) and accomplished a lot and not won here, I feel like that’s something I would have regretted greatly or been very disappointed in,” Rahal said in preparation for Sunday’s race.
Some of that pressure is off because of his emotional win in 2015, when he drove in a helmet designed after that of his beloved Ohio State Buckeyes, who had won college football’s national championship seven months earlier.
“It’s nice to be back here and see all the support,” Rahal said.
Because he’s close to home, there is more expected of the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver, both on the course and away from it.
Rahal, 28, is in demand all over central Ohio. He spent Thursday morning at an Ohio State football practice, getting a tour of the training facilities and chatting with coach Urban Meyer.
He also attended an event at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus in support of the Bobby Rahal Foundation and later had a meet-and-greet for his primary sponsor, Steak n’ Shake.
Rahal, who is married to National Hot Rod Association driver Courtney Force, admits he has few moments for reflection.
“I don’t stop thinking about business,” Rahal said. “It isn’t just racing anymore. It’s the dealerships and performance lines and everything else. I don’t really take enough time to sit down and think a different way.”
His focus is moving up the IndyCar Series standings. He is sixth in the point standings and qualified fourth for Sunday’s race.
“It’s a big weekend, an important weekend with the championship but for also for this being home for us,” he said Saturday.
Rahal has six career wins, his first in 2008 at St. Petersburg, Fla., making him the youngest to win an Indy car race (19 years, 93 days). His most recent victories were June 3 and 4 when he took both races at Belle Isle (Mich.) Park.
“We’ve been probably the most consistent car over the last eight races or so,” he said. “We have to figure a way to keep that going this weekend.”
Rahal isn’t the only driver who feels comfortable at Mid-Ohio.
“I know this a home course for Graham but it almost feels like a home race for us because we’ve had so much success as a team and myself,” said Scott Dixon, a five-time winner of the race.
Rahal is not taking anything for granted after talking to Meyer, who is expected to have another national title contender this season.
“I said to him, ‘You’re going to be dominating this year,'” Rahal said. “He said, ‘Never think that way even if you have all the talent in the world.’
“Then it hit me: You can have all the talent in the world, it’s getting the team working together and that’s what we have here. I’m very proud of that, proud to be a part of that, and the future for myself and our organization is pretty bright.”
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