Olympic gymnast Bart Conner. Tennis star Andre Agassi. Hockey pro Ray Ferraro.
What do these men have in common? Each married an athlete who was equally, if not more, successful in their sport (Nadia Comaneci, Steffi Graf and Cammi Granato, respectively). Add to this list Verizon IndyCar Series standout Graham Rahal, who, in November 2015, married NHRA Funny Car driver Courtney Force, uniting two of the most famous families in motorsport.
How did their romance blossom?
“One day, I was scrolling through Twitter,” recalled Rahal, driver of the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, “and her name popped up. She had followed me, but I hadn’t followed her, so I clicked ‘Follow.’”
A couple months later, “I get a direct message from her on Twitter that says, ‘Hey, I’m in Indy. Where’s a good place to go out for a drink?’”
Rahal responded, including his phone number in the message. “Four seconds later – maybe five, maximum – I get a text: ‘Do you want to come with us?’” Rahal had plans, so he declined. But he and Force stayed in touch.
In June 2013, at Force’s invitation, Rahal attended the NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway, in Joliet, Ill. “That’s how it all got started,” he said. But it wasn’t until the weekend of the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series finale, in Fontana, Calif., that the pair had their first “real” date. Soon, it was official: Graham and Courtney were a couple.
Why the attraction? “Obviously, the first attraction was, I thought he was very handsome,” Courtney told espnW.com., but it was more than that. “I realized how our lives are very similar.”
Courtney is the youngest daughter of 16-time Funny Car champ John Force. Graham calls Indy car legend Bobby Rahal – the three-time CART champion and winner of the 1986 Indianapolis 500 – “Dad.” Each drives for a team owned by their father.
“There are only a handful of people in the world who could understand the pressure I have,” Graham told espnW.com. Courtney agreed. “Living in (our dads’) shadow and following in their footsteps,” she once said, “you don’t find a lot of people who can relate to something like that.”
Based on their first exchange, initiated by Courtney, Graham assumed she was outgoing, like her famous father. “Her dad’s very loud, very overwhelming,” Graham said. “So I kind of expected her to be that same way.
“She wasn’t what I expected,” he added. “She’s probably the most shy human being I’ve ever met,” although Graham did concede Courtney “becomes a different person” at the racetrack, where she is, he said, “in her element.”
So how did Courtney work up the courage to send that first direct message? “Maybe she had a couple of cocktails before she wrote me on Twitter,” Graham said with a laugh. “It’s so far opposite of her personality, it’s funny.”
In November 2014, after a brief courtship, Graham popped the question on a visit to Venice. “I proposed on a gondola ride,” he said.
A year later, the pair said their “I do’s” atop a cliff at the Dos Pueblos Ranch near Santa Barbara, Calif. Courtney, clad in a Galia Lahav Haute Couture gown, arrived to the ceremony in a pristine 1929 Bentley (although she left the driving duties to a family friend).
What’s next for the couple? For now, both remain focused on their careers – meaning they spend lots of time apart competing at their respective races. Eventually, both say they’ll settle down and have a family.
Who will be the first to hang up their helmet? Graham says Courtney.
“I don’t see her racing for more than a few years,” he told espnW.com (although he did admit that “Courtney would hate me saying this”).
Courtney’s dad has other ideas: “As soon as (Courtney) has those children, she’s going to come back to race,” John Force told an Indianapolis TV station. “Rahal is going to get out of the seat of that Indy car and he’s going to go home and raise those kids.”