Alongside Rahal: 'Building unity' with familiarity

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Third of three parts looking at the Verizon IndyCar Series season of Graham Rahal through the eyes of others. Today, chief mechanic Donny Stewart.

Donny Stewart recalls an image of Graham Rahal racing an Intercontinental C class shifter go-kart in a Stars of Karting event in 2003.

Stewart, the chief mechanic for the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda in the Verizon IndyCar Series, has known Rahal “for a long time” and they have quite the history.

In the changing personnel landscape that marks professional sports, it’s encouraging – and occasionally comforting -- to see that familiar face.

“I started working for the team on Graham’s go-karts so I’ve known him for at least 15 years,” Stewart says. “We obviously get along well and have trust in each other, and it carries over to the rest of the team.”

Click it: Part 1, race strategist Ricardo Nault || Part 2, race engineer Eddie Jones

It all started in the Chicago area when Stewart was racing karts and working at a go-kart shop.

“Graham’s cousin and uncle were our customer and one day they hired me to work full time on his cousin’s go-kart,” Stewart says. “We went to the first couple of races and wound up meeting Graham and Bobby (Rahal), and at the end of the year they wanted to basically steal me. I moved to Ohio and since then have been working for Team Rahal.”

Stewart was 20 years old at the time.

“I did a year of go-karting with Graham and then a year of Formula BMW with Graham, and then he went on to race with another team and I stayed with Team Rahal,” Stewart says. “I got the chance to start working on the Indy cars and on sports cars, and I came back to Indy cars when Graham returned to the team (for the 2013 season).

“I enjoy what I’m doing. Years like this year bring a lot of fun for everybody.”

Two victories and a career-best fourth place in the driver championship standings, plus the team’s best entrant points finish since 2004, have the group enthused for 2016.

“We’re building unity,” Stewart says. “(Race engineer) Eddie (Jones) gives Graham a lot of confidence and with confidence Graham ran a lot better. It makes everybody want more of it.”

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