Bobby Rahal found it difficult at times over the last 6 years watching son Graham driving for other open-wheel teams.
But the three-time CART champion and 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner wasn’t going to be a meddlesome father.
“There were a lot of times when I wanted to say something to the team. My tongue bled a lot,” the elder Rahal said. “There were a number of races where he was in a position ... maybe win, and some of these strategy calls would come out and basically take him out of a chance from winning the race.”
Graham being on his own, with a chance to make a name for himself, was part of the Rahals’ plan all along before they were going to work together. The youngster won his IndyCar Series debut in 2008, after a year in Champ Car, and had six other IndyCar podium finishes before driving for dad.
Now on the same team this season, they are racing alongside another IndyCar father-son combo with a famous racing name – the Andrettis, Michael and Marco.
“It’s been great,” said Graham, at 24 already in his sixth IndyCar season. “Dad and I, for those that know us really well, he and I are much the same person. ... I’m excited for what the future has in store for us together as a team.”
Both Graham and Marco are third-generation drivers.
“We’ve been able to share something very special,” Michael said. “It’s a very unique situation, and we’re proud to be part of all of that. This sport’s been very, very special to me personally, just with loving the sport. Then you throw in the family element and it makes it even that much more special. ... We’re lucky, and we count our blessings for sure.”
With Father’s Day coming up, Marco and Graham have a chance to give a gift few sons can to their dads.
“Hopefully a pole and win,” Marco said. “That way, I don’t have to get him a card or anything.”
Graham Rahal’s grandfather was a sports car racer. Marco is the grandson of four-time IndyCar champion Mario, the only driver to win the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500 in NASCAR and a Formula One title.
“I didn’t really provide the choice for them pursue the career of lawyer or diplomat or something like that. But it was ultimately their choice,” Mario said of sons Michael and Jeff following him into racing.
Marco, currently second in points just ahead of Andretti Autosport teammate and defending series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, had just turned 19 when he made his IndyCar debut driving for his father in 2006. Andretti later that season became the youngest driver ever to win a top-series auto race, a distinction Graham took over 2 years later with his first victory.
Mario remembers his grandson being 5 and riding a 4-wheeler, standing on its rear wheels.
“It’s really difficult sometimes. ... When I assess the situation my own way, I say maybe Marco shouldn’t be driving for his dad,” Mario said, with a bit of a chuckle. “Why? Because maybe his teammates might think, people might think, that he gets favors. So Michael goes out of his way not to show favoritism. So Marco struggles sometimes, you know what I mean. It’s a double-edged sword.”
The patriarch of the Andretti racing family also knows the benefit of Marco always being part of a top team. He believes his grandson can carry a team to a championship, but also says it’s Marco’s responsibility to control his own destiny in what is a much different dynamic than most owners and drivers.
“You’re going to have some confrontation between father and son you probably wouldn’t have with a different boss, because either side know they can get away with it,” Mario said. “It’s something different. I’m just glad I never had to drive for my dad.”
Bobby Rahal remembers the late Scott Roembke, the team’s former chief operating officer, telling him then that having the young Rahal was “the best thing that could happen to this team, and it’s the worst thing that could happen to this team. ... It’s the best because he can drive the wheels off a car, and it’s the worst because he’s your son.”
Before announcing their working relationship, Bobby discussed with Graham how they would have to treat each other “on a higher plane” than just father and son.
“The father-son thing, that can be great, and it can be really destructive too,” Bobby said. “There can be a big emotional aspect to that, and that’s not good. So we have to really discipline ourselves to ensure that there isn’t that emotional element in there, and that’s not always easy.”
The series runs Saturday at Milwaukee, a race Michael Andretti’s marketing company is promoting and where he won five times, including a 1991 CART race when he shared the podium with his cousin, John, the runner-up, and third-place finisher Mario.
“Well, I couldn’t ask for a better present that’s for sure,” Michael said when asked about the possibility of Marco getting to Victory Lane there on Father’s Day weekend. “It’d be another special moment at Milwaukee if that were to happen. ... That would just totally add to it.”
Graham Rahal file
Career stats: 1 win, 13 top 5s, 37 top 10s in 82 starts
FYI: Lone IndyCar win came at St. Petersburg in 2008 in his first start, surpassing Marco Andretti as youngest driver to win a major American open wheel race. ... Father Bobby won 24 Champ Car races, including 1986 Indy 500 and 3 points titles (1986, ‘87, ‘92).
Marco Andretti file
Career stats: 2 wins, 31 top 5s, 57 top 10s in 119 starts
FYI: Rookie of the Year in 2006. ... Win at Sonoma in 2006 made him youngest open-wheel winner until Rahal surpassed him. ... He also won at Iowa in 2011. ... Father Michael won 44 races in CART, including 1991 points title. ... Grandfather Mario won four IndyCar points titles (1965, ‘66, ‘69, ‘84), one Formula One points title (1978), and is only driver to win Indy 500 (1969), Daytona 500 (1967) and an F1 world championship.