It's the day after Graham Rahal's 22nd birthday, and he's feeling somewhat frazzled by the rapid passage of time. “I feel like things just seem to disappear so quickly,” he laments, sounding much more like 52 than 22. Seems as if only last week he was 19 and winning at St. Petersburg, establishing himself as the future of open-wheel racing, the Great American Hope, the kid who could change everything.
Older folks might find amusement in his concern about the speed of time, since that particular sensation usually isn't acknowledged until far beyond one's 20s. Yet here is young Rahal, an old soul in a young body, realizing at 22 that the metronome is ticking a bit faster with each passing hour.
“It just seems like yesterday that I was having a lot of sleepless nights wondering if I was going to get a shot to do any races at all,” Rahal says, recalling the previous year and its hardships and comebacks. “That time has come and gone. It's absolutely flown by, which is strange for me. It literally feels like it was yesterday that I got to Homestead for the season finale. It felt then like the season had just started. Time seems to go so quickly.”
Hear him out before you roll your eyes, old-timers. The young man has solid evidence for his reasoning that the past few years – and the past 12 months in particular – have flown by at an astonishing rate. It's about the circumstances, you see. During the most fractured year of his career – he drove for four teams in the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series season (and missed five races) – he was busy assembling the deal of a lifetime, bringing together Service Central and Chip Ganassi to form a satellite team to Ganassi's empire that should be of significant consequence in 2011. Every day of the past year brought a harried adventure for Rahal. Likewise, every day brought the illusion of time getting away.
The flapping of the calendar pages continues into this year. He's settling into his new surroundings, meeting his new crew, getting the lay of the land at the new shop in Brownsburg, Ind., a few miles from Ganassi's main IndyCar headquarters in Indianapolis. He's getting to know new teammate Charlie Kimball, becoming accustomed to having champions and Indianapolis 500 winners Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon as his other teammates, and adjusting to the realization that his dream is now brick and mortar. This isn't just a rumor anymore. It's real, and the clock is ticking.
“It is a project, there's no doubt about that,” he says. “As I look at where we stand today, I see the size of the task and the potential of it. I look at where we were three weeks ago and then look ahead at where we're going to be eight to 10 months down the road, and I know how much it involves – and how much it can be.
“Nobody has come on board to feel like we're playing second fiddle, whether it's to teammates or the rest of the field. The goal is to compete for race wins, but we have to manage our expectations. It is an expansion of Chip Ganassi Racing, and by that, it's a brand-new team. We have a lot of knowledge and things to lean on at the big shop, but it's an entirely new program. We've all got to mesh together and get on the same page in a very short period of time.”