Board Member Spotlight: Bobby Rahal

A racing legend, a father, a businessman, and a Checkered Flag 200 devotee

What did you want to be when you grew up? Some dreamt of becoming a policeman or firefighter, maybe a teacher or a veterinarian. For gearheads, the ultimate childhood fantasy was to become a racecar driver. As we shuffled Hot Wheels around the living room floor, we imagined passing the leader in the final turn of the Indy 500, crossing the finish line to the roar of the crowd. For one Checkered Flag 200 member, that dream became a reality.

In 1986, Bobby Rahal won the Indianapolis 500 in a nail-biting finish, passing Kevin Cogan with just two laps remaining. Rahal has since immersed himself in the motoring community, and is an active member of the Petersen’s Checkered Flag 200.

Rahal’s journey began decades earlier, growing up with a father who raced in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Inheriting his dad’s passion for the sport, Bobby took to racing at 17. Unable to compete in the United States at that age, he headed to Canada for his first race in 1970. By 1973, Rahal had earned his racing license and placed first in class and second overall at his first SCCA event. He began considering racing full-time a year later. By 1980, Rahal was competing in races such as the 12 Hours of Sebring, the Daytona 24 Hours, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. 

The young Rahal wasn’t just participating, he was winning. He took victories in the 1981 Daytona 24 Hours behind the wheel of a Porsche 935, the 12 Hours of Sebring in a Porsche 962 in 1987, and the Indianapolis 500 in 1986 with his favorite car, the March 86C. He also won CART drivers championships in 1986, 1987, and 1992. 

Since the end of his racing career in 1998, his off-the-track career has flourished. Rahal oversees teams in several racing series, focusing currently on “Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing” which he co-owns with friends and fellow enthusiasts David Letterman and Michael Lanigan. The team, which runs two cars in the INDYCAR Series, has posted multiple podium finishes thanks to Rahal’s son, driver Graham Rahal. Graham has consistently been in contention for the podium, winning twice in Detroit this year alone. The goal for Graham is victory at the Indy 500, following in his father’s footsteps.

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On a typical day, Rahal oversees his 14 Pennsylvania car dealerships along with his racing team. Recapturing the nostalgia of his first car, a 1970 Volkswagen Beetle convertible, Rahal now owns a restored 1979 Bug which holds a sentimental place in his collection. Besides the Beetle he also has a flat floor, outside bonnet-latch Jaguar E-Type, a Shelby 289 Cobra, a ’73 911 RS Touring, and a BMW M1. 

Last year Rahal joined the board at the Petersen, contributing his insight from the racing world to help further the museum’s goals. He is a familiar sight at many CF200 events, and even has one of his old Indy Cars on display on the museum’s second floor. Rahal is a close friend of the Petersen, the CF200, and many of its members. 

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Rahal has a deep passion for all things automotive. Between racing, selling, and collecting cars, there is little in his day-to-day life that doesn’t involve four wheels and an engine. He personifies what it means to be a Checkered Flag 200 member, living the life we all dreamt of when we were still just rolling Hot Wheels across the living room floor. 

By: Jeremy Malcolm