IndyCar's Graham Rahal playing dangerous waiting game

March 3, 2010
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He’s young, good-looking and personable.

Oh, and did I mention, he’s American.

And today, as IndyCar Series team crews and drivers are packing their bags and boarding a plane for the first race in Brazil March 14, Graham Rahal will be sitting at home wondering if he’s making the right move.

While the IndyCar Series is going through a painful dearth of American drivers, one of open-wheel’s best drivers—certainly on road courses—is playing a dangerous waiting game.

It’s perilous for him. For series sponsors. And the series itself, who can scarcely afford to lose one of its budding stars.

Rahal is at least partially to blame for his drive into open-wheel’s rideless abyss. There he sits with the likes of Paul Tracy, Ed Carpenter and Buddy Rice to name a few.

But unlike those other drivers, Rahal has an offer sitting in front of him. Or at least he did.

Sources told IBJ that Dale Coyne Racing put a two-year contract in front of Rahal that would pay the 21-year-old a nice six-figure annual salary. But Rahal, sources said, wanted a one-year deal.

Why? Simple, really.

Rahal, arguably one of the best pure driving talents in open-wheel, and certainly a proven road racing power, sees where the series is going. With a greater number of road races coming to the IndyCar Series, Rahal will be an imminent threat to win the overall championship.

But he knows he has to have the right equipment, probably on road courses more than anywhere else. That’s why Rahal is holding out for a ride with Roger Penske’s or Chip Ganassi’s team. He’d also listen to an offer from Andretti Autosport.

Rahal knows there’s not a deal from one of IndyCar’s behemoths coming in 2010. But 2011 may be another story, and Rahal doesn’t want to be tied to what he considers a second-tier team when the big boys come calling.

Rahal also understands with a new chassis coming to the series in 2012, it will be paramount to be on a team with significant resources to make a smooth transition.

If Tony George was still in charge of the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, there’s little doubt among motorsports cognoscenti that Rahal would have a one-year deal by now. Either George would have brokered the deal, or he simply would have tapped into the deep coffers of the Hulman-George empire, as he’s done so many times before, and made it happen.

And why not? There’s a lot riding on Rahal’s participation this year.

Izod, the series’ new title sponsor, this year is begging series and team officials to find a way to get Rahal on the track. Rahal, the son of 1986 Indy 500 champ Bobby Rahal, has been popular at sponsor outing this off-season and the clothier wants to use him in their IndyCar-centric campaign alongside fellow pretty boy Ryan Hunter-Reay.

I simultaneously feel sorry for and admire IndyCar Series’ new boss, Jeff Belskus. He’s been asked by the board of directors who sign his check to be more frugal and make the operation run more like a business.

So Belskus has chosen to step back and let the free market run its course. Problem is, it may do so at the series’ peril. The series isn’t in much of a position to pass on short-term gain in hopes of a long-term payoff.

Who’s kidding who? The long-term future of this series at this point, is anything but assured.

Rahal's future isn't in much better shape. Despite speculation, Rahal can forget about NASCAR. No one in fender-land is looking for an open-wheel road course specialist. Certainly not in 2010. And any investment in Rahal in NASCAR is a long shot and a long-term proposition. And the good ole boys are looking for a much quicker hit than that in these uncertain economic times.

There was speculation that Graham's dad and David Letterman would pull together some cash to put Graham on the track this year. But that is looking less likely by the minute.

Meanwhile, Rahal's situation is screaming at a deafening tone to young, talented (and most notably, American) race car drivers everywhere; "There's no place for you in IndyCar." I mean, if Graham Rahal can't get a ride, who can? Well, Danica Patrick, of course, but other than that, it requires a green card and a seven-figure check to get into the cockpit of an open-wheeler these days.

So here we sit.

Rahal waiting for a bigger, better deal that may never come.

Izod officials crossing their fingers that somehow, someway Rahal gets an IndyCar seat THIS year.

Belskus breaking into a sweat mustache praying that the free market system doesn’t come up snake eyes for his series.

And open-wheel fans?

They couldn’t be more confused if it was 1996 and Tony George was walking through the door with a dead-blow hammer.
 

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  • overblown
    I like Graham and would like to see him in a ride, but I think his impact on the IRL is getting blown out of proportion. Over the long term not being able to put young top American talent in cars is a problem, but Graham sitting out a year is not really going to have an impact on the series.
  • Really?
    Because the chatter seems to be that Dario Franchitti is retiring at the end of the season and Ganassi is going to sign Rahal as his replacement. Rahal didn't take the Coyne deal because he knows that he has one of the best seats in Indycar opening up for him. Coyne really should have offered him a one-year-deal, it would have been good for everybody involved.
  • The IRl risks going down the same road as cart. Granted it sounds like Rahal is playing a game by waiting out the year and threatening to jump to NASCAR. But the old cart owners are looking at foriegn ride buyers over talented Americans.

    Anthony is right, TG did a lot to further the IRL vision, and Rahal would be running right now. The IRL needs to take a look at the road they are going down. The last thing they need to do is become cart II.
  • Bad to Emphasize One Driver
    The IRL, or any racing series for that matter, makes a big mistake in resting their fortunes on any one driver. Ultimately, I think that type of move speaks volumes about the sport as it is today and the lack of overall health. Rahal is no savior. No driver is. I feel no sympathy for Rahal or the sport. They both have made idiotic decisions. At any rate, the sport of Indy Car racing as we know it, is soon to be no more. Penske knows that. Watch and listen. Soon it is game over. The sport needs to go away now anyhow. It had a glorious 100-year run.
  • Foolish move but not over yet
    Graham may be waiting to see if something opens up still this year, but don't count Dale Coyne out yet. He has pulled of many last minute deals to put a driver in a car. If Graham doesn't take the Coyne deal he is being foolish. There is not a 2-year contract that is renegotiable at the end of the year. If a good enough ride comes along Dale will let a driver go. Think of Servia going to NHR a few years ago. Finally, you don't need a green card to get a driving position in CART2. All you need is a big check. I am sure a car owner would hire a similarly capable American driver over a foreign driver if they brought a big check.
  • It's a FREE market
    IRL is a free market...meaning ANY owner has the right, FOR ANY REASON, to run WHOEVER they want.

    CART owners want to run furriners? What about AJ FOYT...ol' TEX runs furriners ALL THE TIME, and he's the godfather of the idiot who started this IRL mess. HYPOCRISY.

    You IRL whining ENABLERS need to forget the 1996 VISIOn and realize that you are now reaping what you had sown. Street races, furriners, less ovals, crappy cars, 60% LESS Tv viewership on a 10 yr contract with unobtainable VERSUS.

    Everythings is coming up roses. Just like Tony George wanted when he saved AOW racing....
  • How did that Swiss girl get a ride?
    Simona de Silvestro....she ain't American. How'd she get a ride?

    Vitor Meira, how'd he get a ride? He's Brazillian and drives for AJ Foyt..ABC Supply sponsors. Maybe they like paying Brazillians instead of AMericans...I dunno.

    IRL should enact an American QUOTA system limiting foreigners, seeing as it's such a big deal for the IRL fans. Maybe even a TARRIF on furriners.

    Back in the early 1996 IRL season you had AMERICANS, billions of 'em all with Tony George funded rides....for the past 14 years. All at about $5 million apiece...for 14 years!!! But it only added uop to $around $250 million. Bwahahahhahhahaha!

    I hope Graham finds a ride, he's just a good kid and racer caught in this IRL failure. What is the IRL anyway? Its a waste and HUGE hypocrisy.
  • Vicious cycle
    They need pay drivers, because they can't get pay sponsors. They can't get pay sponsors because nobody watches. Nobody watches because it's a bad product. It's a bad product because it's been run by an idiot for the past 14 years...
  • Rahal
    Ok, if Izod is all lathered up over Graham then let THEM pony up and sign him for a year deal. That way everybody wins.
    Gee, looks like there's room in this town for another driver's agent. Ha Ha Ha
  • Hunter-Rahal
    Peter's comments make sense to me. IZOD surely has the cash on hand to fund a two-car, Rahal/Hunter-Reay All-American effort. The golden boys can dash and dice in all their modelesque glory in the IZOD colors and flair. Makes nothing but marketing sense. Or maybe, just maybe, IZOD sees this for what it is: A fairly cheap advertising opportunity for a year or two, unwilling to invest too much of their stash into a terminally-ill sport hardly anybody knows about anymore let alone watches. There is the Indy 500. That still bears some significance. But young Rahal had yet to prove he can do anything there other than bend the IZOD logo into right angles if they did sponsor his car. You do have to look at that. Maybe young Rahal isn't the end-all, be-all everyone thinks, including himself, that he is. Maybe he is, dare say, just another ordinary American race car driver fo some, I said some, fame name, that harkens back to yesteryear in a sport that is, well, yesteryear. So even though Peter's comments are spot-on, maybe the fact is...nobody, including IZOD, really care all that much in the end. No, the sport, like young Rahal's driving career in Indy Cars, are nearing the end.
  • Young Rahal
    Coyne hasn't announced his drivers yet. Even though it hasn't happened yet, I assume Rahal will end up there with a one year deal, enabling him to move to Ganassi the following year.
  • Daddy Warbucks
    If Graham is such a steal why won't Ganassi just bite the bullet and have a third car for him now? To make 33-is-just-a-number in the TWO weeks of May, Ganassi and all the fat rich ex-CART teams will begrudgingly add more cars anyway to save the great race again...so just put the kid in a car now.

    Speedway economics at work here....be on a non-seen TV network and have no money to get drivers to populate the series. Good thing the "starched earth" policy was inacted, it's working wonders now.
  • 25/8 rule for Murricans
    I can't wait for the dozers to take out the pagoda. It will be the best day of my life. Just like the day Tony was fired. Twice.
  • Brett in Indy = Huge bag of tools
    Brett in Indy's mom can't wait for Brett in Indy to move out and get a job. It will be the best day of Brett in Indy's mom's life.
  • I'll tell you why not
    "And why not? Thereâ??s a lot riding on Rahalâ??s participation this year."

    Because there is no value in it. Zero. None.

    If Belskus really was letting the 'free market' work, he'd have shut this abortion down permanently. Since they seem to insist on perpetuating this affront to actual motorsport, the scorn and derision will continue for my amusement though. :woot:

    Open wheel fans aren't confused, as the last statement says. Open wheel fans know exactly what is happening. Hulmanista gomer garbage, on the other hand, are perpetually confused. Graham Rahal's situation doesn't change that.

    In closing - I don't see this as a dangerous waiting game. Quite the contrary, strapping oneself into one of the flying crapwagons of death is far more dangerous. And stupid. And pointless.

    code = 3kdxe
  • Rahal Doesn't Matter
    Regardless of what Rahal does won't really make much difference in the end. The IRL is going down the drain as it would have back in 1996 except for the endless supply of money from Tony George. Wake up Indianapolis, the Indy 500 has been destroyed, no one cares and there are hundreds of unemployed former CART/ChampCar and IRL mechanics that are about to lose everything.
  • Race Reporters
    Michael Knight's "Race Reporters" March 3, 2010 report has an interesting interview with GORDON KIRBY, JOHN OREOVICH and other noted motorsports journalists. This week they interview TERRY ANGSTADT. Go TO the 30 minutes mark for the interview.

    IMS / Speedway / IRL are solidly following the Joseph Goebbels "Big Lie" philosophy where if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. FOURTEEN YEARS and running.

    And the IRL wonders why there is no audience for what they pledged would drag folks screaming and kicking.

  • Nothing can save it
    Even if young Rahal gets a seat, short of winning the Indy 500 by edging out say Hideki Mutoh or some Brazilian driver in the closest finish in "500" history, his presence will barely register a blip on the racing radar screen, much less the national sports radar screen. It is a joke to think the addition of this one, still essentially unproven Indy Car racer, will somehow be the magic that returns the sport to at least some modicum of respect and notice. The bottom line, as I have maintained, is the sport of Indy Car racing is in its final two year run. A third and final season in 2012 is an outside possibility in a die-hard sense. But that is it.
  • Dale Coyne announcement
    Well, Dale Coyne just announced he signed a deal with Milka Duno for the entire 2010 season. That puts Graham Rahal's future inreal doubt for the 2010 IndyCar Series season. Though, Terry Angstadt told me yesterday that he was optimistic Graham would get a ride this year. Now, it looks like that might be just for Indianapolis. Follow The Score's Twitter for more on this and other racing news.
  • Haters
    Stan, Burl (cool name?), Chief, Brett and the rest of the doomsday minions continue to take their level of scorn to new lows. If I were Anthony, I would just pull the plug on all of you ninnyhammers.

    Code: 1stansux
  • Why? Coverup the IRL doings?
    Why BerwickGuy? So the world can't see the harm or understand the horrific leadership the AOW sport is under with the IRL / Speedway in control?

    The Speedway continues to perpetuate everything stated. They are oblivious to the fans input...only their own is necessary. They already have a business that is dead or near death.

    Why is everyone so quick to turn the page on what has happened these past 14 years? Want to turn the page, have the SPEEDWAY show some culpability and NOT gloss over the fact they have too long presented the WRONG ideas and arrived at the worst conclusions.

    This sport is DEAD on their watch...passionate fans deserve ANSWERS. And, if you or anyone else thinks that both sides of this schism aren't frustrated you need to have your head examined.
  • Anthony
    Milka Duno has a ride.

    The SWISS MISS has a ride.

    Vitor Miera has a ride (with Foyt too).

    Dozens of Brazillians have rides and offshore tax shelters too.

    But, they let Gene Simmons go. A positive for the sport....but it'll take a dozen years to overcome that stroke of marketing genius. A step in the right direction, I suppose.

  • HEY...btw
    A former fan of AOW racing pointed out today that there's more FOREIGN WOMEN in the IRL today than AMERICAN MEN. Kudos DSmack for that observation.

    IRL....keep that VISION going! More failure...or success for the leegUe.
  • Chief(y?),

    I have to agree with you, getting rid of TG is hurting the vision. It is allowing the IRL to become dangerously close to the failure that was cart.

    It is fun to watch the haters work themselves into a lather. They get almost orgasmic when they dream about the possible failure of the IRL.

    Look at Brett. Best day in his life would be the day they bulldoze the pagoda? Does anyone else see some personal hate for IMS that far exceeds the split? He would love to see Indy lose the two largest events that keep our economy going and helps to provide our identity? Truly sad.

    Burl is laughable with yet more predictions that will be wrong. Something tells me he just updates the dates on his predictions. The best part is in two years, the economy should be recovering and the IRL will see the uptick in sponsorship that all recoveries bring. We may need to put him on suicide watch.

    I think CLB gets close to the heart of the haters when he talks about "there are hundreds of unemployed former CART/ChampCar... mechanics" There are, and they are probably some of the haters on this site. Again, the extreme anger some express on this blog is unhealthy, and has to spring from more than just being the fan of the dead racing series cart/ccws/owrs.

    I do look for the day when women in racing is not the news story it is today. Racing is one of the few sports where women can compete against men on an equal footing if given a chance.
  • CART is still dead
    If they IRL is becoming more like CART, why won't just die?

    The IRL has no soul, it's just goes to the highest bidder. Rahal is a dummy...and the sport is better for it because Milka is IN fulltime! That's enough for long time fans to get lathered up about alright. Lathered up about the failure this sport has become since the Speedway took control.
  • Because it is not cart....yet. They still have American drivers, ovals and American Races. Hopefully they do not move to far away from that.

    I am not sure people are latered up over Milka, but they realize that having women racing is a good thing. And the first series to have a women who can win regularly, is going to get a ton of pr value. NASCAR has tried and failed to bring women into the series, so they are hoping to permanently poach Danica.
  • Duh..
    Why is it that ride buying foreigners (displacing good Americans), once a pillar of the IRL mission, is now OK and accepted by the IRL place fans?

    I'm willing to bet the IRL could change it's name to "CART" and Indyman would be there to carry the helmet bag for them. Sir, you are getting closer and closer to having nothing to cling to. You hatred for CART is akin to beating the dead horse. Though, now that the horse is the IRL you're in love with the limp rotting carcass.
  • Agast
    His daddy and his daddy's racing partner are multi-millionaires - 600 million comes to mind, for some reason - they also have the equipment and the shop; if there was any value in the IRLcar series they would be in and so would Graham.
  • Agast
    TOney GEorge has the money, equipment and shop as well. Why won't he spend his money on the results of his visions?
  • Rahole
    Little Graham turned down a full season at Coyne for 2 races at Sarah Feesher's Dollar General hobby stock operation? Uh,ok.
  • AF Sure Dude!
    hahahahahaha i see why marisol was complaining about trailer parks getting innernet access.

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