Editor's note: In advance of this year's Honda Indy 200 weekend where Bobby Rahal's Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team will be competing in both the IndyCar and American Le Mans Series races, Rahal recalled the memories of racing at his home circuit of Mid-Ohio.
This year's races at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course mark a 50-year anniversary since the first ever races at the track in 1962. Throughout that time, Bobby Rahal and the track have been inextricably linked. On Monday, he tweeted a picture of a March-BMW from 1986 – a good year for him.
Rahal offered some thoughts on the memories of the track at 50 and how certain races have panned out over the years.
“When I was driving into Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course today, I was thinking that it was the 50th year I have been coming here,” he said. “My father was here for the first ever race in 1962 and I came as a little kid. I don't know if I have been to Mid-Ohio every year since then but it has to be pretty close. Personally I have some big wins here. Brian Redman and I drove here in the 1979 Lumberman race, which was a ‘You bring it, you run it' sort of race, and won it – and I think I won more prize money in that than I did in most Indy car races until I won the Indy 500 in 1986. If I look back, winning two Indy car races here in a row, the Lumberman's 500 with Redman and then I won again later on with Jim Trueman in 1983; I have a lot of success here over the years. It's a special place for me.
“In the old days, you couldn't run here until you were 21 years old, even though everywhere else was 18. Having said that, when I finally did get to run at Mid-Ohio in 1974, I loved the track and was immediately successful. And then my mentor Jim Trueman bought the track in 1982, and he certainly transformed it from being just a race track to a place that was great for spectators. Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course has really been part of the fabric of my life; coming here as a kid with his father to being a professional.
“My experiences at Mid-Ohio, for sure, are part of what inspired me to be a professional race car driver. I would come to the track to watch Can Am races while in college because my university (Denison University) is only about 30 miles south. And we came here a lot in part because my grandparents lived in northern Ohio so it was a place we always went to. I saw a lot of great racing at Mid-Ohio – Can-Am, USRC, Formula 5000 – you name it. It's certainly one of the better circuits in North America.”
The track's demanding nature suited him well as a driver, even though he has yet to win as a car owner. The team's most recent IndyCar appearance came in 2008, with Ryan Hunter-Reay (RIGHT).
“I'm not sure what led to the success at Mid-Ohio; I just always liked the track. I should have won three (IndyCar races) in a row instead of two. In 1987 I made a mistake and tried to pass a guy I was lapping and he came down on me and flattened the tire with a few laps to go and (Roberto) Guerrero won instead, and I had been well in the lead. When I first came to Mid-Ohio in 1974 and drove my first race here, I won and have liked the track ever since then. A very good driver in a less-than-competitive car can still make a difference here. Aside from that, physically it is by far one of the most – if not the most – demanding tracks in Indy car racing. They say ‘horses for courses' and I guess this is one of my courses.”