By David Morgan, Associate Editor
Just two days ago, it appeared Graham Rahal would be watching the 107th Indianapolis 500 from the sidelines after getting bumped from the 33-car field, but a cruel twist of fate has delivered him a second chance to race.
That second chance comes as he steps in to substitute for Stefan Wilson, who was injured in a practice crash on Monday, leaving him with a fractured vertebrae and ruled out for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
As soon as news broke that Wilson would be unable to race, Wilson’s Dreyer & Reinbold Racing/Cusick Motorsports team began searching for a replacement driver, with Rahal being at the top of their wish list to climb behind their No. 24 entry.
However, there was a catch. Rahal drives a Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, while DRR/Cusick fields Chevrolets.
Despite the challenges, all of the parties involved put their heads together to try and make it work. First with team owners Dennis Reinbold and Don Cusick, then with Bobby Rahal, Graham’s father and co-owner of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, who Graham drives for on a weekly basis. Then the Chevrolet and Honda brass was brought into the fold and by Monday night, a deal had been made for Graham to drive the DRR/Cusick Chevrolet on Sunday.
“Everything in life happens for a reason,” Rahal said. “Sometimes it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but when I got the call from Dennis yesterday afternoon, right away I felt compelled that this was, for some reason, my calling was to be here, to be able to help as best I could and to fill in.
“Clearly this is Stef’s ride. It’s his seat. He’s done a great job to get it to the point that it is. It was an honor for me to receive the call.
“To Dennis, to Brett, to Don, everybody that made that happen, I certainly am very grateful.
“I must say, Dennis mentioned Chevy, and equally so Honda, for allowing me to do this. I think I told Dennis when he called me, I said, I’m not really sure I want to waste your time. I’ve spent my entire career in a Honda. I’ve never driven anything other than that. I’m not really sure that we’ll be able to get the releases in place to be able to make this happen.
“They really came together, two manufacturers, to allow this to take place, to allow us to go race on Sunday, and hopefully get this car moving towards the front and have a really, really strong run.”
For Rahal, it has been a rollercoaster ride since qualifying weekend, going from the lowest of lows to now getting a chance to keep his streak of Indy 500 starts alive. With all of the circumstances surrounding this situation, Rahal noted that he isn’t taking the opportunity to race in relief of Wilson lightly and will put his best foot forward for all involved.
“I felt every emotion over the last couple of days,” Rahal said. “But as I’ve always said, and Dennis knows this well, that’s Indy. It can put you through a vicious cycle, and you never know what’s going to happen, how it’s going to take place. We don’t know how it’s going to end up in five, six days’ time.
“But at the end of the day, when an opportunity like this comes, you certainly are honored to get the call. For me, I won’t lie, I really did feel excited to have the sense that another team had the respect at least for me to call. It was a great opportunity to come out here and try to perform and be able to race this Sunday.
“You go through it all, the highs, the lows, and I still, as I said, don’t want to step in and take over here. It is Stef’s role. He’s put this all together, he and Don and Dennis and everybody have put this entire program together.
“It’s a very unfortunate situation. I feel for him.”
A lot of work lies ahead for Rahal and DRR/Cusick to get their back-up car ready to hit the track on Carb Day on Friday. Though he will only have limited track time to get a feel for his new ride, Rahal remains confident that they will be in good shape when it comes to race day.
“There’s no doubt that it’s a great opportunity,” Rahal said. “These cars have been very, very strong. For me, I feel good about that, about our chances this weekend, and to move forward and put on a heck of a show.
“We’ve got 500 miles to do so, try to play it as we always do, put ourselves in a good position come the last couple stints of the race, and be able to move forward and hopefully make these two proud and Stef and everybody associated with the program.”