Focus on ‘500’, Returning Sponsors Add Up to Promising 2017 for Graham Rahal

JW Marriott, Walt Kuhn, Borg-Warner,Earlier today, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing confirmed that Steak ‘n Shake will return for a third season of sponsorship on the No. 15 Honda of Graham Rahal. Look for the bow-tie firesuit and red livery at the season kickoff in St. Petersburg next month, the iconic Indianapolis 500, the Rahal’s hometown race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, and at Gateway Motorsports Park, the newest race on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule.

The latter on that list is one of Steak ‘n Shake’s largest U.S. markets, so fans should expect a new fan event in St. Louis this August, celebrating the return of IndyCar and the brand’s sponsorship with RLL. I expect more details to be released on that as we get closer to that race weekend. St. Louis won’t be the only city reaping those benefits though, as the sponsor confirmed more in-store events with Rahal himself, and the No. 15 Honda throughout the season… not to mention the return of those delicious Graham Rahal Milkshakes this summer!

Sardar Biglari, founder of Biglari Holdings Inc., the parent company of Steak ‘n Shake and Maxim Magazine (which will also be featured prominently on the car) stated,

“The partnership with [RLL] has exceeded all expectations. We’re excited to support such a legendary team in its efforts for another winning season.”

Bobby Rahal added the “the pride they have in their company and their enthusiasm for Indy car racing is impressive. The fan support also continues to be a source of pride for the team.”

This is the second primary sponsor to renew with RLL, as United Rentals confirmed their livery on the No. 15 for both Phoenix & Detroit IndyCar weekends this season. 

Speaking of the Fans…

04cj6391In addition to being a four-time IndyCar race winner, Graham Rahal has been well-known for his social media presence. This current off-season has been no different, with the No. 15 RLL driver tweeting out different contests and opportunities to fans over the past months to win all kinds of autographed items. From National Guard backpacks, to RLL hats and raceworn gear, Rahal has been doing what he does best – staying engaged with his fans.

He voiced the opinion that the fans will have even more to be excited about in the upcoming seasons, with the new Indy car premiering in 2018,

“I think when people see the new car, [they] are going to really like it… the series has so much potential and is headed, without a doubt, in the right direction. And I don’t see that that’s going to stop any time soon… I haven’t seen the finished product by any means, but I think it looks pretty awesome. For me, it’s more like what I feel an Indy car should look like.”

It’s always reassuring to hear from an insider that the series is on that upswing, that he sees that pure positive moment from his side of things. It further justifies what we have all been noticing and that’s it’s not just wishful thinking in wanting the series to succeed and have that growth, but that it’s genuinely happening at a steady and solid pace. One thing about Rahal, he’s always gonna let you know what’s on his mind without sugar-coating it, so you can take his feedback as honest and unscripted.

I want to share a comment he made on Media Day that stuck with me because it was an observation about our form of motorsport that while obvious, I had never heard put in such a way,

“The thing I appreciate the most from what I’ve seen is the honesty within and outside of the sport. You know, areas where we’re weak, we’re going to tell you we’re weak. In areas where we’re strong, we should be proud of it. I like what I’ve seen cut of Jay’s group in particular.”

Those strengths of the series, are a collective effort of all the drivers, teams, and multiple angles of support. Rahal commented on the potential that RLL Racing tapped into in 2016 and they look forward to adding on to that success, with particular focus placed on improving their performance at the Indianapolis 500. He feels that the engine side of Honda is very strong and with the manufacturer shake-ups over the off season in the paddock, he seemed confident that RLL can maintain their lead of top-ranked Honda team.

_9sg5967-1Part of the RLL confidence, and what they hope will get them an additional edge on the competition, is the addition of Oriol Servia to their team, for the Indianapolis 500. As of now, the 101st Running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing will be the first race of the season for Servia, but as I wrote earlier, the potential for rides earlier in the season is something that’s being discussed with team co-owner, Bobby Rahal.

The younger of the Rahals explained that while there were drivers that approached the team with funding and an interest in a full-time ride (second car) with RLL, they had been turned away because the addition wouldn’t be a good fit for the team.

You can take that however you want, but given how things ended after Spencer Pigot’s time with them last season, I take it that they are not interested in sculpting and training an up-and-comer. The team said as much in a post-Pigot interview last year.

Rahal is looking for a mentor to get his career to the next level and find more domination in the series, rather than being a mentor to the new kids on the block. I can’t really blame him for that, since he’s not yet where he wants to be.

However, pulling from my professional experience as a manager, trainer and being on the hiring side of my industry over the years, I have learned a very important lesson: teaching others how to do a job and learning how they learn is sometimes when you make the best discoveries. In turn, those lessons you weren’t even anticipating allow you to implement new methods, which ultimately strengthens your team as a whole. So, while I understand RLL’s perspective, I think they might be missing out by not taking the opportunity to mold the next generation of drivers through patience and sharing of not only driving experience, but life experience. 

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Feature image by Shawn Gritzmacher / IndyCar
Images within piece by Walter Kuhn, Chris Jones and Shawn Gritzmacher / IndyCar