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CART Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  CART

CART Media Conference

Bobby Rahal
October 20, 1998


T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon. Welcome to the CART Media Teleconference. Thanks to all of you for being with us today. Our guest this afternoon needs no introduction. A week from Sunday he concludes 17 remarkable years as a FedEx Championship Series driver at the Marlboro 500, presented by Toyota, at California Speedway. While there may not be many household names in open-wheel racing, Bobby Rahal's is certainly one of them. Bob, congratulations on a distinguished 17-year career in the FedEx Championship Series and thanks for making time for us this afternoon.

BOBBY RAHAL: My pleasure, T.E. I hope everybody will bear with me if I start nodding off or what have you and still I think -- I know I am not on eastern time; I know I am not on Australia time. I am sure I am in between there, but where exactly, I have no idea.

T.E. McHALE: I am sure everyone is willing to cut you a little slack on that basis. Bob's place in the Championship Auto Racing Team's record book is assured thanks to the following numbers: His 24 CART victories rank him fourth all-time; while his 18 pole positions rank him fifth. Bob has started more CART events, 263, than any driver in history and only Rick Mears has won as many PPG Cups, 3, with Bob's titles coming in 1986, 1987, and 1992. Beyond that, there are the 91 podium finishes and 3,107 career laps led making it obvious that there will be an enormous void left in the driver's talent pool when Bob hangs up his helmet following Rahal's last ride. The last ride concludes with the Marlboro 500, presented by Toyota, which will pay $1 million to the winning driver and will be broadcast live on ESPN on Sunday November 1st beginning at 3:30 eastern time. With that we will open the floor for questions.

Q. You have always been a practical, business-like guy who has kept a real lane on your emotions. Has there been any point to date where, I mean, where there was a lump in the throat or there was a moment when it was hard to keep a leash on things?

BOBBY RAHAL: I don't know -- certainly there have been times all year -- I mean, the obvious ones driving or being driven, I guess, around the track at Mid-Ohio with my family with me on the back of the pick-up truck and just the tremendous reception that I got there and just the sense that you really felt like you had to do a good job for all those people. I guess because it was Mid-Ohio you kind of sort of expected it or it was not -- I have always had a great deal of support there, so I felt that that was going to be again the case this year. But I think the thing that really hit me this year, frankly, of them all, was Milwaukee after qualifying when I got a standing ovation and it was only, I don't know, maybe 3, 4,000 people there on a Saturday, so it is not that many people. But it took me totally aback. I just never expected that whatsoever. What's really hit me over the years - and it is has not been any one thing I think - but more the fact that you go to every race and in Toronto, all the well-wishers, and every where I have gone, the receptions and the wishes from everybody has been so -- has been fantastic. I guess the thing that has hit me is the fact that you really feel like you are connected with people after all these years; that, yeah, you are out doing your thing, but in the process of doing that, you meant something to people and I guess that, as I say, that is the thing that has really had no impact on me this year.

Q. Could you comment on the fact that in fact you were very insistent that you go out as a competitive driver and you have been consistently competitive this year?

BOBBY RAHAL: Well, that was certainly my objective selfishly, I guess. I'd seen people do the other, frankly, overstay their welcome and I didn't want that to happen at all; probably more for, you know, as I say, selfishly for me, but also for the, you know, you don't want to -- I guess I don't want people to remember me, you know, going through the motions. And, that is very important to me, that the fans -- that the people who have supported me over the years know in their hearts that I have been giving it my all and that we had, I guess, the good judgment to when to say -- know when to say when so to speak. So the competitiveness has been a big thing for me.

Q. Following up a little bit on the last question, talk about your emotions going into Fontana, knowing this is absolutely your last race. I know you had your last race at Mid-Ohio and Toronto, but this is the last.

BOBBY RAHAL: Yeah, this is it. To be honest with you, I don't know, I mean, I think it may hit me when I get there next week. Certainly Saturday night, I think it is going to be, you know, I have never had problems sleeping the night before a race, but I have a feeling that next Saturday night I am -- it is going to be hard not to -- you know, it is going to be obvious that it just isn't another Saturday night before a race and I think that is probably when it is going to have the biggest effect on me. I do want to do well in the race. I do want to try to win it. And it will take, I am sure, everything I have got to kind of keep that focus, but maybe on the cool-off lap, it will finally strike me what it all means or the enormity of it. But at this stage of the game, I am not sure what the hell is going to happen.

Q. You said earlier in the year that you really wanted to win a race this year and now it looks like that is not going to happen. How much of a disappointment is that and how much does it mean the fact that Bryan won a race? Is that almost as good as if you had done it yourself?

BOBBY RAHAL: I haven't given you up yet. I still have one shot. 500 mile race, I will tell you, anything can happen. As far as last year, we finished fifth in the race and anything can happen. But I think with Bryan's win, I thought it was somewhat, I guess, poetic that the place where I had so much success as a driver would be the place where I had my first win as a team owner, I guess, you know, and I think -- it was Bryan's win - make no mistake about it - but I think for the team and for all of the effort that we have all put in over the last three, four years, it was kind of, you know, at least a sense of vindication that we were doing the right things and just everything worked our way that day and Bryan drove a tremendous race and we were winners. I am not sure -- I think I would have felt differently had I won the race, but at the same token, I felt tremendous pride in Bryan and in our team and a tremendous sense of satisfaction for everybody.

Q. I want to ask you a little bit looking ahead to 99 when you think those cars are going to come in and what any kind of testing schedule will be like for Max and Bryan?

BOBBY RAHAL: We get our first car the 19th of November and then our first test will be that first week in December for both Bryan and Max. I have to say, I am very excited about 1999. I think that, you know, when you look at how much change is going on in the series, there is very little change for us. Yes, Max is coming in, but I mean, the equipment package is basically the same and I just feel we have a very good chance for 1999. With Bryan and Max, I got two guys that I know where their focus is and it is 100% on racing and that is what you need to have to win. So we feel pretty good. I think Max's performances, as of late, in particular, have, I think, done a lot to, I guess, explain to some people why is he capable of doing a great job. We are -- we have got one race to go yet, but there is no question that there is a lot of enthusiasm for the coming year.

Q. Looking back, are there any regrets or about races not won or races not in or anything as you look ahead or back on your career?

BOBBY RAHAL: Not real -- I mean, you can probably make a case for anything if you really wanted to get specific, I suppose. There are races I should have won and didn't. And there are races that I shouldn't have won and did. I mean, you just over time you understand that is the way things happen and you just accept it. I really have no regrets. I mean, as I have said several times, when I started racing my objectives were so limited, I guess, or my expectations -- I didn't really -- all I did is I started racing because I loved it and I was fortunate that I was able to succeed in it. So as a result I have no regrets about anything.

Q. Could you assess the state of your sport from where it was when you came in and where it is now and do you feel it has made progress and how that progress has compared to what NASCAR has done in the same span?

BOBBY RAHAL: In 1982 when I showed up probably the average age of the drivers in the series was probably something like 40, 41 years old. We had, I think, about ten races that first year which -- we were at the same track at three of the tracks -- three tracks, I think we were at twice, Milwaukee, Phoenix, and Michigan. The crowds were small. There was not much prize money. The competition wasn't very tight because basically two teams dominated. That was Patrick and Penske. Everybody else was just kind of, you know, trying to pick up the scraps. Hardly any TV, no sponsors to speak of, or very little -- very few sponsors. Then you compare it to today, just a total -- about 180 degrees out from what you had then considerably, you know, obviously the competition is considerably more intense and 20 races in 1999 and probably more on the way. I mean, it is just -- you can't compare the two, frankly. It is like an apple and orange between the two. I think that it has grown very well. I think CART and open-wheel racing as a whole and NASCAR grew differently for different reasons. I think some of it had to do with the types of overall series sponsors they had and the amount of promotion that was dedicated towards it. I think the series has grown tremendously and I think the future looks very good. I think the average age now is 28 and the minute I require, it is going to be 27. I am totally screwing up the curve being 45. So I think that the future looks good.

Q. I was curious what slate is for the next two weeks. Are you going to fill it up with a whole lot of activity because it is your last race or are you going to save a couple of days and maybe be a little more reverend about it, some downtime with your family just before the race?

BOBBY RAHAL: Actually I got in last night and I leave tomorrow night. There is a Mercedes-Benz dealer meeting in Hawaii that I have to go to. So I will be there 'til Monday and then come to L.A. Monday and Blattler is not making me rest. He is working me hard all the way to the finish line. We are going to be busy. I am going to try to minimize some of it, try to get my rest and stay rested because I have no doubt that Friday and Saturday and Sunday are going to be very tough days. But we will stay busy as always and just try to keep our head above water.

Q. What do you think you will miss most about driving?

BOBBY RAHAL: I think I am going to miss the competition, going to miss that time when you take that corner better than anybody else could have taken it on that lap or you do that great qualifying lap or you make that great pass or you bring a crippled car home. I guess it is the sense of personal satisfaction that racing gives you that I am probably going to miss because in racing you get that feedback very quickly. It happens all the time. In every day normal life, it tends not to do that. So your sense of, as I say, of satisfaction is going to probably be a little different than what I have been used to. Just the fact of sort of meeting the challenge and beating it, I am going to miss that part. There are some things I am not going to miss. I am not going to miss a bad handling car on an oval track, I can tell you that. I am not going to miss racing in the rain or I am not going to miss some of these other things that you have done over the years. But there is no question that there are going to be certain aspects I will miss.

Q. There have been points in your career where you have taken heat for abandoning this engine program or going with this chassis program, yet you have always survived and gone through and moved on. Do you look at yourself as a maverick? Is that one of the ways you want to be remembered as a guy that was willing to gamble and not just go with the norm?

BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I guess -- I think we tried to create advantages and sometimes we created then and sometimes we didn't. I guess we were never complacent. You can pretty much say that. We were looking for an advantage because we just -- I never wanted to be just a participant in racing. I wanted to be a winner and to be a winner you have to be willing to roll the dice. You have to be willing to take some risks and some things on paper look great and they just don't turn out that way or some things don't look good and they turn out great. You can do all the due diligence in the world beforehand and come to -- anybody would come to the conclusion that it should be the most successful thing going and in reality it becomes a different thing and it doesn't. So we have always been willing to push and to risk and to try things and not be complacent as I said. Obviously, as I said, there is a huge risk to that because sometimes it is working and sometimes it doesn't. I guess I'd rather try and fail than not try at all, as they say.

Q. I hate to see this career end because we have been covering you a lot longer than you thought.

BOBBY RAHAL: You are aging both of us.

Q. I used to have to call Dell Clark (phonetic) at our sister station at WBBM whenever you do anything down here or anywhere else. I think your great day was - and I was lucky enough to witness that from the tour at the speedway - was when you won in the Bud car and won the race and your car owner had the satisfaction to seeing you win that race. Unfortunately, Jim Truman passed away a short time after that, but that was a great day.

BOBBY RAHAL: It sure was. It was -- you know, it still seems a little bit unreal because of just all the events that led up to it and after -- you know, and those that occurred afterwards. We are -- I have had time to reflect over this year and reminisce a little bit at times about things and I never forget that morning, little did we know what the outcome -- what was going to happen three hours later; as you say, to realize somebody else's dream, truly was a very special thing for all of us. It wasn't just for me -- not just on my part, but Steve Horne, everybody on the team, and, you know, as I say, it is a little unreal even to this day.

Q. Congratulations on a great career and we will still get together.

BOBBY RAHAL: Thank you, Walt.

Q. A simple yes or no question, I suspect, but if you want to elaborate as to your reasons why, I'd appreciate. Are you planning to do any testing in terms of as a driver in the 1999 season?

BOBBY RAHAL: No, I don't -- you know, first off, the guys who are actually racing the car need to be doing the testing, but no, I might get second thoughts if I did that. So -- (laughs).

Q. My other question, given the fact -- everybody wants to go out a winner when you retire. Does that put additional pressure on you for the Fontana race?

BOBBY RAHAL: I don't think so. All year long I have tried to do everything we could to win a race and we have been close. We have led races. We have qualified in the front row. We have been in a position to do very well and just things happened. I mean, I am disappointed obviously that we haven't won. Got one shot. I don't think I am going to do anything differently. I am not going to go crazy. But certainly, I guess it is kind of like when Jim -- when we won Indy for Jim, you knew there -- you knew he wasn't going to be at the Indy 500 the next year, so you better get with the program this year. I guess maybe I will probably bring that same kind of commitment to this weekend.

T.E. McHALE: I guess we can let Bob get some sleep. Bobby, thanks for being with us this afternoon. Best of luck in your final appearance as a FedEx Championship Series driver at the Marlboro 500 presented by Toyota. Good luck to you then and in your career as a car owner. Thanks again for being with us.

BOBBY RAHAL: I look forward to seeing everybody out in California. Thanks T.E..

T.E. McHALE: Thank you all for being with us today and we wish you all a good afternoon.



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