Graham Rahal was flying across the country and an internet search wasn’t keeping him informed of how his drag-racing wife, Courtney Force, was doing at Sunday’s NHRA Pacific Raceways event in Seattle.
He was “somewhere over Nebraska,” if his memory serves, when a forum comment advised his wife had crashed out in first-round eliminations. As much as the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver can’t avoid anxiety when watching his wife speed down the strip in a Funny Car, this was even worse.
Rahal eventually learned his 28-year-old newlywed wife escaped serious injury. But she’s going to be sore for a while as a result of her John Force car veering hard into a left-side retaining wall.
“Court’s good. No broken bones, luckily,” Rahal said during a Verizon IndyCar Series tire test this week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “She got banged up pretty good. Her knee, elbow and head and everything else is going to be a little tender for a while, but she seems to be all right.”
Rahal and Force were wed in a November ceremony on the picturesque edge of a cliff at Dos Pueblos Ranch in Santa Barbara, Calif. Both had racing fathers. Force’s father, John, is a legendary drag racer with 16 Funny Car national titles. Rahal’s father, Bobby, is the 1986 Indy 500 winner and a three-time Indy car season champion.
What makes the couple’s dynamic most unusual is each has to worry about the other. In the majority of racing relationships, wives are asked how they handle their husbands making a living in a dangerous occupation.
That’s why Rahal was practically bouncing off the inside walls of his flight trying to find out any information on his wife. Compounding the situation was news from the night before that short-track great and three-time Indy 500 starter Bryan Clauson had been involved in a serious crash while racing midgets in Kansas. The racing world learned Monday that Clauson did not survive. The day before, concerned husband Rahal was frantically seeking answers on the welfare of his wife.
“I was in air. … Nothing was giving me updates,” Rahal said. “I didn’t even know if they were racing or not. I’m searching all over the place, then I finally got a forum that came up and in the comments it said she had crashed. I’m trying to figure out the severity of what it was.”
As a rule, Rahal tries to attend every race where Force competes, but sometimes schedules don’t allow for the couple to be together. He’s spent enough time at NHRA tracks to understand how Funny Cars cover the quarter-mile tracks with speeds of more than 330 mph.
Knowing what it’s about doesn’t make it any easier for him to watch.
“I hate it, man,” Rahal said. “For me, they’re nerve-racking moments, for sure. Everybody says, ‘Why do you travel so much, why do you fly?’ Last week, I had a 23-hour day just to get out to Seattle and I always tell people exactly that reason. I try to make it to every single run I can, just in case. If anything would happen and you’re not there …
“Of course, I had to pick on her for leaving it to when I’m not there for it to happen and put me in a tailspin. You’ve got to be there to support her at all times. It’s hard. It’s not my favorite thing to go through, I can tell you that.”
With a weekend off, Force has time to rest up. Rahal sounds like he’s going to change his plans to join her for some vacation time.
“It’s a very unfamiliar situation,” he said. “Most people in this world don’t really understand what’s that like from a husband side because they don’t have to experience that too much with their wives. Obviously for me, she’s far more than a race car driver or just another female. It’s important to me that she’s safe and luckily she is.
“She’s supposed to go on a week vacation with her family. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it, but I think that’s going to change a little bit now. Hopefully she can relax a little.”