Bobby Rahal is a former American racing driver who has competed in many championships, including Formula 1, IndyCar, and NASCAR Series. He left the greatest trail in the North American open-wheel racing, winning the CART Indy Car World Series three times (1986, 1987 and 1992).
He participated thirteen times at Indianapolis 500 as a driver, winning the race in 1986. He also became Indy 500 winner as a team owner, running a car for 2004 winner Buddy Rice.
Robert Woodward Rahal was born on January 10, 1953, in Medina, Ohio. Since his childhood, Bobby was fascinated with cars, which wasn't unusual at all, knowing that his father Mike Rahal was a sports car racer.
Rahal tried his luck in Formula 1
Bobby’s impressive racing career began in the lower tiers of SCCA and his first result that attracted the attention was the 2nd place, behind legendary Gilles Villeneuve, in 1977 Formula Atlantic championship. Encouraged with the result, Rahal began his episode in Europe. Driving for Walter Wolf Racing, American racer competed in European Formula 3 without too much success.
Later in 1978, Rahal returned to America and had a chance to show his talent and skills in the most prominent racing competition – the Formula 1 World Championship. He wasn’t experienced enough and his only wish was not to embarrass himself. Driving for Walter Wolf Racing in the last two rounds of the season, he made F1 debut in the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen and took the 12th place while in the Canadian Grand Prix Rahal he retired on lap 17 after suffering fuel injection problems. That was Bobby’s last appearing in Formula 1.
Return to the US
In 1979, he had another try in Europe, but this time in Formula 2. As a driver of Chevron Racing team, Rahal did relatively well. He picked points in five races and took the 10th place at the end of the season.
Unhappy with the situation Bobby returned home and began competing in the sports cars racing, driving in IMSA GT Championship, Le Mans and many other series with a considerable success. Victory at 24 Hours of Daytona in 1981 was definitely the highlight of that period but the best was still to come.
New destination was the IndyCar Series
In 1982, Rahal debuted in the IndyCar Series, driving for Truesports Co. with which he spent seven fruitful years. Bobby was named Rookie of the Year after he finished 2nd overall, behind Rick Mears, with two wins (Cleveland and Michigan) and other four podiums on his account.
The following year wasn’t as good but still it wasn’t that bad. Rahal won the race at Riverside, finished 2nd at Michigan and 3rd at Mid-Ohio before he took the 5th position at the end of the season.
Finishing 3rd two years in a row
In 1984 and 1985 Rahal finished 3rd in the Drivers’ championship. The beginning of 1984 was really poor and Bobby could barely pick points. In the second half of the season, Rahal’s results improved. He scored four consecutive podiums and later added two wins in a row at Phoenix and Laguna Seca.
The beginning of 1985 was even worse than the beginning of the previous campaign. Rahal finished in points only once in the opening six races but over the season his performances became much better. Three wins and one 2nd position launched Rahal to the 3rd place overall, again behind Al Unser and Al Unser Jr.
In 1984, Rahal drove his only NASCAR race in his career. He was driving Wood Brothers #21 Ford to the 40th place finish in the Winston Western 500 at Riverside International Speedway, completing only 44 laps before breaking a rear end gear.
The start of the 1986 season was again slow as he didn't score any points in the two opening races. After a while, he had a victory in Indianapolis 500, which was his first and only triumph at Brickyard. After a couple of ups and downs, his form reached the peak in the second half of the season.
Rahal won the race in Toronto, later added triumphs at Mid-Ohio, Montreal, Michigan, and Laguna Seca and eventually clinched the trophy in the final race of the season in Miami. Bobby beat Michael Andretti by only eight points.
The season of 1986 was definitely the best in Rahal’s career and the next year was also pretty good. Ultimately, the start of the season was solid for the reigning champion. Bobby finished twice at the podium and later won two consecutive races at Portland and Meadowlands. It was followed by a stream of top 3 places and finally another title was sealed with a win at Laguna Seca.
In 1988, at Pocono Raceway he scored the only victory for the Judd engine, later he finished 3rd in the championship and until 1993 he was only once out of top 5 in the final standings.
At the end of 1989, Rahal left Truesports Co. and signed with Kraco Racing. The first season with a new team was a step back as he finished 9th. In 1990, Bobby moved up to the 4th place although he did not win any race. Rahal left the team in 1991, the year in which he was close to winning another title. His form was at the very high level but Michael Andretti was even better and Bobby had to settle for the 2nd place.
Rahal formed his own team
In 1992, Rahal partnered with Carl Hogan formed his own team but continued his racing career. The team was an immediate success and Rahal won his third CART title after scoring four wins and having numerous top 3 finishes. That year Rahal won his last race, at Nazareth Raceway.
Bobby continued to drive for his team until 1998. His best result was the 3rd place in 1995 when he finished behind Jacques Villeneuve and Al Unser Jr. In the meantime, Hogan left the team but Rahal found a new partner, famous talk show host David Letterman.
Post racing career
After retiring from driving, Rahal continued to act as a team owner and had a plenty of success in the American Le Mans Series. Rahal has been responsible for finding and developing some of the top talents in open-wheel racing – Ryan Hunter-Reay, Buddy Rice, Bryan Herta, Max Papis, Danica Patrick, Jimmy Vasser and Michel Jourdain Jr ar just some of them.
He was also responsible for bringing Honda into North American open-wheel racing in the early 90s.
He was also a team manager of Jaguar. Rahal also runs a network of car dealerships. His son is Graham Rahal who is also a racing driver in the IndyCar Series. The back straight leading up to the corkscrew at Laguna Seca was named Rahal straight.
In 2004, Rahal was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, as well into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America. Since 2013, Bobby is also a member of SCCA Hall of Fame while in 2014 he was inducted into the Auto Racing Hall of Fame at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.