Graham Rahal accepts SoldierStrong’s “Commitment to Service Award” not on his own behalf but for his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team.
The third annual honor, bestowed on the Verizon IndyCar Series driver Tuesday, is in recognition of those who make a significant impact to raise awareness of SoldierStrong, charitable organization whose mission is to improve the lives of the men and the women of the United States Armed Forces.
Rahal and his team have a lengthy history of giving back to military charities, most recently with the Turns for Troops program powered by United Rentals (www.turnsfortroops.com), which donates $50 to SoldierStrong for every lap the driver completes on the track. United Rentals donated $102,035 this season.
“To be completely honest with you, I’m humbled but I must say I’m also slightly embarrassed,” Rahal said of the award. “Really this isn’t about me. I drive the race car and obviously people see that every weekend and we get to help promote the cause and bring it to more of a national scope. But it’s not about me. It’s really about United Rentals and SoldierStrong and Turns for Troops, the initiative, and INDYCAR fans who have helped make this possible, my team, my dad (Bobby) and (team co-owners) David Letterman and Mike Lanigan and all of the people who have believed in this from the start to work together.
“I guess you could say I’m “the face of the program,” but really I’ve got probably the best job of just driving the race car and trying to bring some light to the entire initiative. But there’s a lot of people behind the scenes that make this happen. All I can say is I’m humbled by it. I’m honored to be a part of it. I’m fortunate to be a part of it. I really hope that INDYCAR fans and teams and drivers alike and everybody can all unite and try next year to raise more and more and more money to give back to these people who have sacrificed so much for us.”
Rahal singled out United Rentals for its involvement in the Turns for Troops endeavor and made a passionate plea for fan support.
“United Rentals has been an incredible partner of ours, but a partner in which maybe INDYCAR fans haven’t fully recognized, who they are, what they are, what they do,” he said. “It’s a name you see every single day. You see a construction site, anywhere you go, you’ll see United Rentals and their equipment. What you don’t see is what they’ve done for us, with us, for the military and for paralyzed, wounded, disabled veterans who need our help.
“I really hope INDYCAR fans grasp onto this program going forward. Any donation works. Go online, buy a rally towel for 10 bucks. That money goes directly to the cause. There is no filtering this through a COO who is taking a cut. It’s going to help these troops.
“With IndyCar fans, United Rentals and us, together we can all really, really make a difference in these people’s lives. We owe it to them. That’s how I feel. We owe it to these veterans, who are out there fighting for us. Our daily lives that we get to enjoy here in this country, these things don’t come free, they don’t come easy, they don’t come without risk and harm to some of our own unfortunately. It’s just a big passion of mine, to try to do what little I can to give back and to help them.”
Rahal, 27, a four-time winner in the Verizon IndyCar Series, finished the 2016 season with a second-place run at the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, where Rahal met paralyzed U.S. Army Sgt. Dan Rose on Sept. 18. They stood together on pit road for the national anthem before the race — Rose used exoskeleton legs — then celebrated after the outcome.
“Sgt. Rose really stands out because he’s just a phenomenal guy and a great story,” Rahal said.
The driver formerly had the U.S. Army National Guard as a primary sponsor.
“I’ve worked with Canines for Warriors, which was a PTSD group,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of stuff. I just enjoy it. I enjoy giving back. For me, there’s a greater pride in that than anything else I could do. Obviously through my foundation, I’ve supported kids’ charities, which is near and dear to my family’s heart and always will be, but military is as well in a huge way.”
In his younger days, Rahal said classmates often thought he was obnoxious about his patriotism.
“I can’t say that I can trace it to any specific thing,” Rahal said. “I would just say that, growing up, it was something that I felt.
“I was always proud to represent the stars and stripes, and to race and try to bring some pride to our country, to my state of Ohio and everything else in the professional arena. A lot of people would probably tell you I might be a little over the top, but it’s something I genuinely have always felt strongly about.”