Graham Rahal has been an IndyCar Series driver since 2008, but racing has been his life since he was born, as his father, Bobby Rahal, won the 1986 Indianapolis 500. We sat down with the 27 year-old No. 15 driver to discuss his partnership with his main sponsor, Steak 'n Shake; the majesty of the Indianapolis 500 (he placed 14th out of 33 drivers in this year's race); what it’s like racing an IndyCar; and what he eats to stay in racing form.
The Daily Meal: How did you come to be sponsored by Steak 'n Shake?
Graham Rahal: Racing is different than other sports in that each team relies on sponsorships. Without sponsors, we don’t go racing. Both David Letterman, who’s part of my team, and Steak 'n Shake are both from Indianapolis. Dave loves Steak 'n Shake -- there’s one right outside of the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York, where he filmed – so here we are. There was actually a Graham Rahal Shake in Ohio last year, a chocolate shake with M&Ms. A dollar from every shake was given to charity.
How is the Indy 500 different from all other races?
Well, it’s the world’s largest single-day sporting event, with up to 400,000 people there on race day. You don’t realize the size and scope of it until you’re there. And it’s such a great tradition; it was created to show that automobiles could last for 500 miles. It’s what the rear-view mirror was invented for! The people and the atmosphere make it fun and exciting, and it’s the city’s biggest day of the year. For the most part, if you live in the Midwest, you’re into the Indy 500.
And how is driving an IndyCar different than a regular street car?
Well first of all, there’s no power steering, so steering is really heavy. And it’s a serious workout; your heart is racing at 170-180 beats per minute for two hours plus. I lost 6 and a half pounds during my last race! The loads are also really demanding; it’s comparable to flying an F-16.
What’s your eating regimen like?
I eat a lot of lean protein, fish, chicken. On race day I’ll eat a lot of carbs like pasta; you need energy but nothing that will upset you. I grill a ton when I’m at home with friends. And I actually do eat at Steak 'n Shake! It’s not just fast food; they have a grilled chicken salad that I really like. I need to eat as light as I can because teams spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year taking weight off of their cars, and I’m a big guy for racing. We fight for a pound. Our suits are paper-thin and fireproof. They’ll ask me, “Are you sure you need that liter of water?” I say, “You want me to get dehydrated and lose my focus?” [Laughs].