CHAMPCAR/CART: Bobby Rahal Interview 98-10-20

Tuesday, October 20, 1998 FedEx Championship Series BOBBY RAHAL WILL COMPETE IN HIS FINAL RACE AFTER 17 YEARS AS A DRIVER IN TWO WEEKS AT CALIFORNIA SPEEDWAY. RAHAL'S 24 CART VICTORIES RANKS HIM FOURTH ALL-TIME; WHILE HIS 18 POLE POSITIONS...

Tuesday, October 20, 1998

FedEx Championship Series

BOBBY RAHAL WILL COMPETE IN HIS FINAL RACE AFTER 17 YEARS AS A DRIVER IN TWO WEEKS AT CALIFORNIA SPEEDWAY.

RAHAL'S 24 CART VICTORIES RANKS HIM FOURTH ALL-TIME; WHILE HIS 18 POLE POSITIONS PLACES HIM FOURTH ALL-TIME. HE HAS STARTED MORE CART EVENTS, 263, THAN ANY OTHER DRIVER IN HISTORY AND ONLY RICK MEARS HAS WON AS MANY PPG CUPS, 3, WITH RAHAL'S COMING IN 1986, '87 AND '92

BEYOND THAT, THERE ARE THE 91 PODIUM FINISHES AND THE 3,107 CAREER LAPS LED MAKING IT OBVIOUS THAT THERE WILL BE AN ENORMOUS VOID LEFT IN THE DRIVER'S TALENT POOL AFTER RAHAL HANGS UP HIS HELMET IN FONTANA.

BOBBY RAHAL -7- Miller Lite Ford-Cosworth - You have always been a practical, business-like guy who has always kept your emotions in-check. has there been any point to date when it has been hard to keep them inside?

"I don't know -- certainly there have been times all year -- I mean, the obvious one was at Mid-Ohio with my family on the back of the pick-up truck and just the tremendous reception that I got there and just the sense that you really felt like you had to do a good job for all those people. I guess because it was Mid-Ohio you kind of sort of expected it or it was not -- I have always had a great deal of support there, so I felt that that was going to be again the case this year. But I think the thing that really hit me this year, frankly, was Milwaukee after qualifying when I got a standing ovation. There were maybe 3,000 to 4,000 people there on a Saturday, so it is not that many people. But it took me totally aback. I just never expected that whatsoever.

"What's really hit me over the years - and it is has not been any one thing I think - but more the fact that you go to every race and see all the well-wishers, and every where I have gone, the receptions and the wishes from everybody has been so fantastic. I guess the thing that has hit me is the fact that you really feel like you are connected with people after all these years. It shows that you meant something to people and I guess that, as I say, that is the thing that has really had an impact on me this year."

Could you comment on your desire to go out as a competitive driver.

"Well, that was certainly my objective selfishly, I guess. I'd seen people do the other, frankly, overstay their welcome and I didn't want that to happen at all. I guess I don't want people to remember me, you know, going through the motions. And, that is very important to me, that the fans -- that the people who have supported me over the years know in their hearts that I have been giving it my all and that we had, I guess, the good judgment to when to say when so to speak. So the competitiveness has been a big thing for me."

Can you talk a bit about going into Fontana, knowing that this will be your absolutely last race?

"Yeah, this is it. To be honest with you, I don't know. I think it may hit me when I get there next week. Certainly Saturday night, I have never had problems sleeping the night before a race, but I have a feeling that next Saturday night I am -- it is going to be hard not to. It is going to be obvious that it just isn't another Saturday night before a race and I think that is probably when it is going to have the biggest effect on me. I do want to do well in the race. I do want to try to win it. And it will take, I am sure, everything I have got to kind of keep that focus, but maybe on the cool-off lap, it will finally strike me what it all means or the enormity of it. But at this stage of the game, I am not sure what the hell is going to happen."

You said earlier in the year that you really wanted to win a race this year and now it looks like that is not going to happen. How much of a disappointment is that and how much does it mean the fact that Bryan won a race? Is that almost as good as if you had done it yourself?

"I haven't given you up yet. I still have one shot. In a 500 mile race, I will tell you, anything can happen. As far as last year, we finished fifth in the race. But I think with Bryan's win, I thought it was somewhat, I guess, poetic that the place where I had so much success as a driver would be the place where I had my first win as a team owner. It was Bryan's win - make no mistake about it - but I think for the team and for all of the effort that we have all put in over the last three, four years, it was kind of a sense of vindication that we were doing the right things and just everything worked our way that day. Bryan drove a tremendous race and we were winners. I am not sure -- I think I would have felt differently had I won the race, but at the same token, I felt tremendous pride in Bryan and in our team and a tremendous sense of satisfaction for everybody."

What do you think you will miss most about driving?

"I think I am going to miss the competition, going to miss that time when you take that corner better than anybody else could have taken it on that lap or you do that great qualifying lap or you make that great pass or you bring a crippled car home. I guess it is the sense of personal satisfaction that racing gives you that I am probably going to miss because in racing you get that feedback very quickly. It happens all the time. In every day normal life, it tends not to do that. So your sense of, as I say, of satisfaction is going to probably be a little different than what I have been used to. Just the fact of sort of meeting the challenge and beating it, I am going to miss that part. There are some things I am not going to miss. I am not going to miss a bad handling car on an oval track, I can tell you that. I am not going to miss racing in the rain or I am not going to miss some of these other things that you have done over the years. But there is no question that there are going to be certain aspects I will miss."

There have been points in your career where you have taken heat for abandoning this engine program or going with this chassis program, yet you have always survived and gone through and moved on. Do you look at yourself as a maverick? Is that one of the ways you want to be remembered as a guy that was willing to gamble and not just go with the norm?

"Well, I guess -- I think we tried to create advantages and sometimes we created them and sometimes we didn't. I guess we were never complacent. You can pretty much say that. We were looking for an advantage because I never wanted to be just a participant in racing. I wanted to be a winner and to be a winner you have to be willing to roll the dice. You have to be willing to take some risks and some things on paper look great and they just don't turn out that way or some things don't look good and they turn out great. You can do all the due diligence in the world beforehand and come to -- anybody would come to the conclusion that it should be the most successful thing going and in reality it becomes a different thing and it doesn't. So we have always been willing to push and to risk and to try things and not be complacent as I said. Obviously, as I said, there is a huge risk to that because sometimes it is working and sometimes it doesn't. I guess I'd rather try and fail than not try at all, as they say."

Looking ahead to 99, when do you think your new cars are going to come in and what will the testing schedule be like for Max and Bryan?

"We get our first car the 19th of November and then our first test will be that first week in December for both Bryan and Max. I have to say, I am very excited about 1999. I think that when you look at how much change is going on in the series and how little we are changing, it looks good for us. Yes, Max is coming in, but I mean, the equipment package is basically the same and I just feel we have a very good chance for 1999. With Bryan and Max, I got two guys that I know where their focus is and it is 100% on racing and that is what you need to have to win. So we feel pretty good. I think Max's performances, as of late has done a lot to, I guess, explain to some people why is he capable of doing a great job. We are -- we have got one race to go yet, but there is no question that there is a lot of enthusiasm for the coming year."

Could you assess the state of your sport from where it was when you came in and where it is now and do you feel it has made progress and how that progress has compared to what NASCAR has done in the same span?

"In 1982 when I showed up, the average age of the drivers in the series was probably something like 40, 41 years old. We had, I think, about ten races that first year which -- three of them were at the same track.. I think we were twice at, Milwaukee, Phoenix, and Michigan. The crowds were small. There was not much prize money. The competition wasn't very tight because basically two teams dominated. That was Patrick and Penske. Everybody else was just kind of, you know, trying to pick up the scraps. Hardly any TV, no sponsors to speak of, or at least very little sponsor involvement. Then you compare it to today, it is about 180 degrees different. Obviously the competition is considerably more intense and with 20 races in 1999 and probably more on the way it will only get better. I mean, you can't compare the two, frankly. It is like an apple and orange between the two. I think that it has grown very well. I think CART and open-wheel racing as a whole and NASCAR grew differently for different reasons. I think some of it had to do with the types of overall series sponsors they had and the amount of promotion that was dedicated towards it. I think the series has grown tremendously and I think the future looks very good. I think the average age now is 28 and the minute I retire, it is going to be 27. I am totally screwing up the curve being 45. So I think that the future looks good."

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Bobby Rahal