During the post-race press conference, Bobby Rahal and David Lettermen were discussing how they are introduced. “They always say the 1986 Indy 500 winner,” said Rahal. “I’m introduced as a television has-been,” cracked Indy’s favorite son whose 30-year talk show career made him rich and crazy enough to co-own an IndyCar team.
The odd couple of the IndyCar paddock never had a better day than Sunday. Takuma Sato won the 104th Indianapolis 500 and Graham Rahal finished third as RLL out-performed Andretti, Ganassi and Penske.
“We had a pep rally in our garage this morning and I’ve never been as pleased with where the team stands as it does right now,” said Rahal, who first made it to Victory Lane with Letterman as a car owner in 2004 with Buddy Rice. “The people we have on board, everybody working together. The team results this year already with some good runs by Graham, in particular.
“I just really feel we’re in a good spot. I told them that. We saw that in qualifying. So this gives our team a huge boost, because of course we went out, went toe-to-toe with the Andretti team, which is obviously a great team, Ganassi, great team, the McLaren team and of course Penske. This was a tough crowd this year, I think, maybe tougher than normal. We were able to compete and win.”
Letterman, who grew up on Indy’s northside and worked as a local weatherman before being shown the door for proclaiming: “hail the size of canned hams is falling on Beech Grove,” is dead serious when it comes to passion in life.
“Let me just say if somebody said to me this morning at the end of the Indianapolis 500, Takuma Sato and Scott Dixon and Graham Rahal would be racing for the lead, I would say, Well, that’s a dream, that’s a dream come true,” said the Ball State grad who became Rahal’s partner in 1996. “I woke up, and it turned out that we won the Indianapolis 500. These three guys, what do you want? They’re tremendous.
“But it all is flattering to me. I think you probably know, I have very little to do with the daily functioning of this organization. All of this is reflected positively on me. When we won it in 2004, honest to God, it was like I’d been hooked up to some powerful electric generator. I thought that I will never experience this again in my life. For me, just a goon, it was a life-changing experience.”
Letterman grew up going to the Speedway and idolizing Bud Tinglestad, and his Late Night show was the best PR that Indy got every year when he hosted the winner and then the IndyCar champion.
“To even be here, to be in the field, to be in the pits, anybody who grows up in Indianapolis, this is some DNA we’re talking about,” he continued. “We were always kids looking outside in. Now inside enjoying it, winning the race. For me it’s a thrill. I said to my son last night when he was going to bed. I said, ‘When I see you tomorrow, we may be Indy 500 champions.’ He kind of rolled his eyes and went to bed. So I have leverage over the kid now.”
An untimely yellow in the Indy Grand Prix and bad pit stop at Road America cost Graham a shot at two victories in 2020, and he drove a methodical pace Sunday until it was go time and then he put on a charge.
“Graham drove great,” said his proud dad. “Had to make changes to the car during the stops. The team did an awesome job, made his car more competitive. Thought we were going to make a good run at Dixie a couple times. Traffic came into the way. Takuma did a super job. The pit stops for both cars were really good today, gained a lot of spots on that. I guess when it’s time to go racing, we went racing.
“Just really pleased to have two cars in the top three at the Indy 500. Not a bad day.”