I look forward to this weekend every year – the weekend IndyCar comes home to me, right here in Ohio. While we all know how much I advocate for Cleveland to make it’s way back on the schedule, racing at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is not something I would be willing to give up in order to make that happen. It’s less than 2 hours from my hometown on the shores of Lake Erie, and it’s well worth the jaunt down I-71.
Earlier this week, while working my regular job in healthcare, my supervisor asked if someone would be willing to take the day off on Thursday because our patient volume was low due to our surgeons attending a conference. As you can imagine, I was more than eager to start my Mid-Ohio weekend a day sooner than anticipated.
It was absolutely worth it.
I kicked things off in Columbus with the IndyCar Racing Experience, riding in a two-seater around the streets of Columbus and ultimately on the campus of The Ohio State University. The experience was better than expected and I can’t thank Mid-Ohio and the Experience team enough for allowing me to be a part of it. Sitting essentially on the ground, feeling every gear change, the wind in my hair during the accelerations and cruising points… they were all parts of the afternoon now carved indelibly into my memory bank. And the fact that we got to ‘race in the rain’ on our way back to the starting point? Unreal.
Not only was this my first time in an IndyCar two-seater (what a rush!), but it was also my first time inside the iconic Horseshoe.
Now, I know I’ve been a not-Buckeyes fan, but getting to go inside the massive and empty college football stadium was pretty cool. I even said to one of the Mid-Ohio folks that was with us, “I get it now.” I see why that place can evoke such excitement – it really is something to behold and if it was that impressive completely vacant… I can only venture a guess at how it feels and looks on a game day. I will always be a proud Bowling Green State University Falcon for life, but perhaps I’ll go check out a game this coming season and give the Buckeyes another chance. O-H… right?
Little did I know that around the same time we were checking out the stadium and doing laps around the outside of it… Graham Rahal was on campus meeting the head coach of his favorite football team, Urban Meyer! Meyer, an Ohio-native as well, was the head coach of my aforementioned alma mater, in both my Freshman and Sophomore years – which I mentioned to Graham when I saw him that evening at his Steak ‘n Shake event at Easton. He lit up when talking about getting to meet Meyer, the tour of his office and seeing all the hardware that Meyer has accrued over his five seasons coaching the Buckeyes.
Without question, the evening had to end with dinner at Steak ‘n Shake, and a signature Graham Rahal milkshake! It’s funny because I can count on one hand how many times I visited Steak ‘n Shake prior to their sponsorship with Rahal, RLL, and IndyCar… but since they became a sponsor? Well. I don’t even pay in cash anymore because I have their app set up with my credit card for loyalty points and treats. I shared the meal, and about a thousand laughs, with one of my best friends last night. And while I can’t give you the details quite yet, there are a firesuit and a ladder in my future – no particular order. Don’t ask.
The Ohio-connection was strong at Thursday’s meet & greet for fans – Rahal talked to the crowd, answered questions, took photographs with fans and signed autographs. Once the 2-hour event was complete, I found out that one of those folks that had stood in line to talk to Rahal, was his second grade teacher! What a cool moment for both of them.
Coming to Mid-Ohio really is like coming home for so many reasons, and for so many people. From drivers, to crew, to media-folk like myself, having the Verizon IndyCar Series race in Indiana’s neighboring state means a lot.
The series’ first practice of the weekend is at 10:00 a.m. this morning so make sure you find a comfy spot on one of the numerous hills or viewing mounds, or tune in to the livestream if you aren’t able to be at the track today.
In-post photos by Matt Fraver / IndyCar
Feature photo by Shay Hazen