As Graham Rahal prepares to get back behind the wheel of his IndyCar this Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway, it’s tempting to make a ‘Baby needs a new pair of shoes’ joke.
Graham and his wife, former NHRA drag racing star Courtney Force, announced last week that they are set to welcome their first child in November.
Both are thrilled about becoming parents, but Graham knows how special it is for Courtney in particular.
“Since she retired … It’s a tough road when you step away, and obviously she stepped away for this reason,” Graham said in a Tuesday INDYCAR teleconference.
“But when you lose that competitive spirit – well, you never lose the spirit, but when you lose what you’re competing for or the fire within, it becomes a hard battle.
“So for her, I’m extremely excited, too. I think she’s extremely pumped up for this to finally happen.”
As for the baby’s gender, Graham says they won’t find out until it arrives.
“Courtney wants to keep it a surprise, and she says I’m like the one person in the world that every surprise she tries to plan I ruin, so this is one I can’t,” he noted.
But while Graham may enter the season with a spring in his step, he and Rahal Letterman Lanigan teammate Takuma Sato are aware of the challenge they’ll soon face: Starting the season with a one-day show on a track where 220-mile-per-hour speeds are the norm.
Drivers and teams are in for a long Saturday. When they get to Texas, they’ll have one afternoon practice session to dial in their cars before qualifying and the race.
There’s also a sizable group of newcomers making their Texas debut.
And with the COVID-19 pandemic having halted Firestone’s usual production, IndyCar has mandated a 35-lap limit for tires in the race.
It’s a lot to stay on top of, and both Rahal and Sato emphasized the importance of racing smartly.
“Everybody needs to respect each other and be careful this weekend because it is the most intense race that we probably do all year,” said Graham, who finished a season-best third last year at Texas.
“You combine that with the fact that obviously, points are huge. Each and every weekend, it’s massive. It is anyway in a normal championship. Obviously, this year, that’s magnified.”
“Bringing the car home is the number one thing,” said Sato, who himself comes off a solid 2019 season with wins at Barber Motorsports Park and WWT Raceway at Gateway outside St. Louis.
“Let’s have a fun, great show, but ultimately, as we repeatedly say, this is such a competitive series. At the end of the day, for the last 10 laps, going for the win, I’m sure is going to be a huge battle for sure. But other than that, I just hope everybody really respects each other.”