What Graham Rahal is learning by dating Courtney Force

As IndyCar and NHRA collide, is there anything the famous Rahal can learn from the famous Force that could translate to the open-wheel side? Anne Proffit thinks there is.

If there’s anything Graham Rahal has learned as an adjunct member of the fearless Force family over the past near-year, it’s marketing. Rahal, son of three-time CART champion and 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal, has been working with his father’s Rahal Letterman Lanigan Verizon IndyCar Series team over the past couple of years. He struck up a friendship with Courtney Force of the NHRA dynasty; they’ve been an item since last fall.

Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda
Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

Photo by: David Yowe

These haven’t been the best of times for RLL, which is mired in a slump that has this team absolutely stumped. They’ve added engineering talent in Bill Pappas and John Dick, had Oriol Servia on-hand as second driver and morale-booster (Oriol’s great at both) and added the resources of the National Guard as sponsors for their INDYCAR effort. Despite all this infusion of talent and money, all they’ve really got to show for their efforts this season is a single second-place result in the first Detroit Dual in late May.

That must have the folks at National Guard sitting up and wondering what the heck they did when choosing this team to carry their colors? Results aren’t any better than what they’d had with now-defunct Panther Racing, which closed after being unable to retain the sponsorship - and generally ticking off everyone in the INDYCAR community.

Graham Rahal and beau Courtney Force have been attending one another’s races whenever possible. And it has been plausible for Rahal to be at several NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events this year, with INDYCAR’s truncated schedule occurring primarily between late March and late August/early September.

Courtney Force
Courtney Force

Photo by: NHRA

Who’s learned the most? I’d be betting it’s Rahal, who has emphatically stated that there’s much to be gained in watching the Force family: 16-time Funny Car champion John, wife Laurie, daughters Ashley, Brittany and Courtney at work, together with company president and first Force daughter Adira’s husband Robert Hight, the current Funny Car points leader.

What Rahal is learning is how NHRA and the Force family do business. His appearances at NHRA drag races are good publicity for INDYCAR, which continues to consider marketing something the teams and sponsors should do for them. In NHRA drag racing, John Force (and his family) understand the value of marketing, and often-times that means simple interaction with the paying fans. NHRA is great for this kind of thing - every ticket allows a fan access to the pit areas where teams work on their cars and drivers are the front-men/women that are there to explain what’s going on beyond the ropes that separate fans from workers.

It’s a very different community and Rahal appears to be soaking it all in. He’s experienced the Force marketing machine at work and is, no doubt, talking to his father and other Rahal Letterman Lanigan team members about implementing some of the fan-friendly approaches in the drag racing community.

Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda
Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

Photo by: Covy Moore

The big question is this: can it translate well to INDYCAR, which continues to show signs of trying to crawl out of the massive hole it dug itself into? Can others in the Verizon IndyCar Series understand that it is the paying customer that keeps them alive? NHRA gets it; NASCAR gets it - it’s time for INDYCAR to come out of that hole and realize the sunshine isn’t dimmed one bit by allowing fans access to the garage area so that they can meet the teams, the drivers and learn more about a sport they want to love (after all, they paid to be at the track). If it costs the series a little bit to allow added access, it’ll pay back down the road.

It isn’t rocket science, even if the cars that the Force family, the Schumacher clan and others drive down the drag strip sure look, feel, sound and smell like something out of this world. Marketing can come down to the most basic things altogether - a simple smile, a handshake and an opportunity to meet and greet. They do these simple things so very well in drag racing; can Graham Rahal’s newly learnt ideas work for marketing INDYCAR?

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About this article
Series INDYCAR , NHRA
Article type Commentary
Tags courtney force, graham rahal, indycar, nhra