- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 19, 2008

familiar and satisfying.

The track is about 50 miles from the Rahal Letterman Racing shop in Hilliard, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus, and not far from New Albany, where 19-year-old Graham grew up and still lives.

The younger Rahal, now an IndyCar Series rookie driving for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, spent a lot of time at the track, nestled in rich, rolling farmlands.

That was a decade ago, when his father, a three-time champion in the CART series, was still racing and Graham spent long summer hours playing with friends and the children of other drivers in the paddock.

“You could certainly get in plenty of trouble,” Graham said. “Dad would stay in the motorhome [in the infield], so at night we’d always take the golf carts out and the security guys would get all mad. Memories of [this] place and Cleveland always stand out to me the most.”

His father made 16 starts here from 1983 to 1998, posting eight top-three finishes, including consecutive victories in 1985 and 1986.

But that’s only part of the connection for the elder Rahal.

The track was built in 1961 and purchased in 1981 by Jim Trueman, founder of the Red Roof Inns motel franchise and an amateur racer. A year later, Trueman started his own CART team, Truesport Racing, hiring Rahal to drive, and made major changes to the track, including new garages and a four-story tower.

“I have a lot of memories of this place,” Bobby Rahal said Friday, between IndyCar practice sessions. “It’s great seeing everybody and we’ve had a lot of success here.

“And it’s amazing those garages and the tower are still standing more than 20 years later. I remember when Jim built all those. He took a [place] that was a great track but short on amenities and really turned it into something world class, so it’s always good to come here.”

For Graham, who surprised everyone by winning on the temporary street circuit at St. Petersburg, Fla., in his IndyCar debut in March - the youngest IndyCar winner ever - it’s also another chance to match up more evenly with the returning IndyCar drivers and teams.

He drove last year in the Champ Car World Series, the successor to CART, and moved this season to IndyCar, along with eight other drivers as part of the long-awaited unification of American open-wheel racing.

He and the rest of the transition drivers know they are at a disadvantage on the ovals, where they have little experience with the tracks and the IndyCar equipment. But street and road courses, like the natural terrain Mid-Ohio track, are a different story.

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