A look at the family dynamic of the racing business with the Rahal’s and why they’re not running from the challenge

INDIANAPOLIS — It’s no secret, Graham Rahal is a free agent at the end of the 2023 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season. While some are trying to report that he could possibly be on the outs at his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team at seasons end, Rahal wanted to clarify his stance and why some comments from him were taken out of context and not given the full quote.

Despite it seeming like folks are trying to separate the two, both father (Bobby) and son (Graham) don’t want to leave each other. This is blood. This is family. This is racing for which has bonded the already close father-son combo.

Is the work life easy right now for both? Of course not. They’d both love to be winning races and championships together side-by-side. The going has gotten tough over the last few years but that’s equally as byproduct of just how difficult the NTT INDYCAR SERIES truly is to compete in.

Why quit now? That’s not how family works. Especially this one.

Graham for starters doesn’t want to leave. He’s not actively talking to any other teams about leaving RLL for. He’s had no talks with any team in Gasoline Alley about coming aboard in 2024. He just wants to get through the Month of May and into June before even entertaining the thought of even exploring the dynamic of looking for employment in 2024.

“Well, yeah, of course,” Bobby Rahal said of if he wanted Graham, his son, to stay.

Obviously both sides would love to make this work and have had better success. Some may think that Graham doesn’t trust RLL’s vision. That’s not true. Some may wonder if Bobby doesn’t trust Graham’s talent. That also isn’t true.

“Because you, you know, especially with him (Graham) driving for you, you know, you want your kids to be successful and achieve their dreams and their goals,” Bobby said.

Bobby feels the pressure of not only being the parent and but also in not being able to weekly supply his own flesh and blood with race contending cars. Bobby feels that weight every day on his shoulders and is trying to do something about it. Bobby not only has Graham, but he has grandkids he wants to impress too. There’s a lot of pressure being the patriarch of a racing family in a racing business and having the burden of employment for not just an entire organization of people, but also your son too.

“I think there’s, we feel more pressure there because it’s blood, you know, and because, you know, you want them to be successful,” Bobby continued.

He says nothing against any of his other drivers that he’s had or currently has, as he wants the best for them just as much and Graham. However, he does have a bias and who could blame him. It’s his own son and he wants the best for Graham in the now and in the future and he’d love for it to be with him signing the paychecks.

“We like him because he’s a hell of a race car driver,” Bobby further said of Graham. He’s a hell of a — I’d put Graham up against anybody on race day. Of course that’s the most important thing.”

Graham Rahal chats with his father, Bobby Rahal, on pit lane at Monterey. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

That’s why despite what most think that they realize, but unless you’re behind those doors or your last name is Rahal, you don’t truly know just how important the GMR Grand Prix weekend truly was for them and this relationship.

“That just shows you what this team is capable of and the kinds of cars that we need to consistently give these guys, because if we give them those kinds of cars, they’re going to be up front every day,” Bobby said.

Graham of course wants to be able to showcase his talents more, but he also knows that this is family. This is dad. Sometimes racing for a family isn’t all rosey getting to where they want to achieve but damn does it feel good once they do.

He knows they’re the smaller team on the block in comparison to the Penske’s and Ganassi’s, but knows and sees firsthand just how much work RLL is putting in behind the scenes to close that gap and he’s grateful for it.

Bobby was also very poignant that RLL is doing everything that they can to close the gap to the big teams up front. They’ve opened up a beautiful new race shop and their commitment to this series is as high now as ever before.

Again, while they may have been side-by-side in a press conference, both told me similar things minutes apart when they were standing on opposite sides of the room.

“I think a lot of what they (other media members) keep bringing up about I don’t want to run 20th is that it isn’t a reflection on the team,” Graham said. “As I say and of course, you know, I don’t want to run 20th and that eventually, I need to look in the mirror to and understand if I’m the cog in the wheel that’s not working too.

“Because from an unselfish perspective, I know that I could stay within this team and a management role or something else, and I feel that I could have a really strong effect on them. Sure. And so that’s what I said. But of course, things go whatever way they go.

“At the end of the day, you know, the major positive is that I have this organization if they whatever sponsor dollars come in, I can guarantee you that plus some has been spent on going racing. You know, their commitment is better, I would say higher than any other team, other than maybe Roger (Penske) who can literally do whatever they want, you know. We are improving. I know it doesn’t look like it, but things are gonna get better. It does take time without testing without all of that. It is very hard to improve. It’s very hard to go forward. And you’re trying to find things like last night and race trying to you know, you stumble across a ride height change it suddenly wakes the car up and think feels totally differently. Like why now why like, what are we missing? You know, in our data that isn’t showing, you know, but that’s where we’re at.”

In saying that, to get there and to hop onboard this journey, no one ever said it was going to be easy. This is the exact reason why family members don’t like working together. It can put a massive strain on their relationships and cause not only tension, but friction in family functions outside of work.

Being at the top of any form of business takes a lot of sacrifices, commitment and making some not so easy decisions. Doing so with family makes it so incredibly difficult.

“Super challenging. It’s super challenging,” Graham told me on Fast Friday. “I’m think Courtney (his wife) would tell you the exact same. But it’s not easy. And, you know, trust me, it would often be a lot easier for me to drive for a different team from that perspective, because you drive for a different team. If you have a confrontation or got an issue or whatever, then you go home and you don’t have to eat with them you know, within my case, I mean, like I said, jokingly out there I mean, he’s stuck with me I mean, he’s gonna be my dad for as long as we’re both around so you know, it’s super difficult.”

Working with family is difficult. It’s not easy. There’s bound to be disagreements. There’s bound to be different philosophies. What makes it hard with family is, you can’t just shut it off. A co-worker, you don’t think twice about it when walking out of the office doors. When it’s family, it can affect personal feelings too.

You have to take it home with you and it’s challenging. That’s why it’s not an easy task to work with family, let alone a sibling and parent.

But, at the end of the day, it is a sibling-parent and if you have a strong enough love and bond like the Rahal’s do for each other, you fight through it, not run.

Bobby acknowledged that too. He said that luckily and unluckily, he and Graham don’t live close enough together to let his personally affect them outside of racing, but he said they’re racers at the end of the day and it’s a bond that he and Graham will never lose and never not be able to avoid.

The name Rahal is on the walls. The name Rahal is in the car. There’s a lot of pressure for them to make it right. But, this is what bonds them. Bobby is a legend in this sport. Graham grew up idolizing his dad watching him race and counting the days and years until he could do so himself. He hung around the track. He hung around the shop. He was watching dad do something he eventually wanted to do.

The pair bonded over it.

“Particularly dad, and I’ve always been very, very close, you know, of all my siblings. I think he would even say that he and I have always been very, very, very close,” Graham said of Bobby. “And so we’ve had times where it creates a lot of rub in the relationship and you just don’t want that. So, you know, a lot of the way that we handle that and stuff though is I don’t negotiate with dad. You know, he and I have not really talked about anything. I work you know, negotiate with Mike (Lanigan) and talk to Mike if we’ve got an issue we go to Mike you know, and that just is what it is. A family business is not for the faint of heart, no further racing or anything.”

The Rahal’s operate differently. They want to make it work. They tackled this endeavor head on and while there’s going to be disagreements, at the end of the day, it’s racing and bonding and they both love each other and know that at the end of the day, both Bobby and Graham care deeply about each other, about racing and share a common goal and no matter what adversity faces them, their values and love for each other get them through it.

“Yeah, you get it. I mean, you live it, you know, and it is you know, sometimes it is hard to separate the two,” Graham said. “I do think over the last five to eight years. We’ve been a lot better. I think since National Guard days were kind of hit an all-time low. I feel that we’ve been a lot better in that regard. “

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