In the weeks following Justin Wilson’s death in August 2015, his friend and former teammate Graham Rahal began organizing a massive fundraiser to benefit the Briton’s wife and young daughters. Among the race-worn helmets and other memorabilia donated by NTT IndyCar Series drivers and teams, a new entrant in Grace Autosport added to the range of items that went up for bid.
Announced in 2015, Beth Paretta’s new Grace Autosport team was set to debut at the 2016 Indy 500 with Katherine Legge as its driver. During the process, Paretta also had a desire to support the Wilson family and came up with an auction whereby the winner would get to name Legge’s car. Brian Graham was fortunate to place the winning bid and was on course to have his late grandmother’s first name carried inside the cockpit throughout the 100th running of the great race.
For a myriad of reasons, the Grace Autosport entry was unable to answer the bell in 2016. However, Paretta never forgot Graham’s generosity, and with her new Paretta Autosport program in motion for this year’s Indy 500, she’s made good on the deal by adding ‘Carolyn’ and the initials ‘CJK’ which she’d often use to sign correspondences.
Now, five years after the original plan was hatched, Simona de Silvestro’s No. 16 Chevy will spend the month of May circulating the Indianapolis Motor Speedway while paying tribute to Graham’s grandmother. In a welcome development, Wilson’s younger brother, Stefan, will also be on track at IMS in the No. 25 Andretti Autosport Honda.
“During those unfortunate times for everyone in IndyCar, the auction for Justin Wilson’s family was something that I was tracking, and then when I saw that opportunity pop up to name Beth’s car, it was perfect,” Graham told RACER. “We lost grandma 12 years ago now, so it would have been right around seven years or so since we lost her when the auction came up. My grandma and my grandpa are the ones that got me started with the racing bug.”
Although the plans with Grace did not come to fruition, Graham was able to attend the 2016 race and kept in contact with Paretta.
“We actually got my grandpa out to the 500 for the 100th running, and obviously, we would have been stoked to see her name on the car with the Grace Autosport effort,” he said. “We were guests of Beth’s, and got to meet Holly Wheldon, Dan’s sister, and it was really cool. I’m just so appreciative of Beth keeping it in mind and getting the chance to help out the Wilson Children’s Fund.
“Beth even reached out in 2017 and just was like, ‘Hey, we’re still hoping to do this at some point and I’m keeping you in mind.’ She’s really the driving factor behind keeping the car-naming thing going. And it wasn’t about me, it was more of just getting grandma the chance to be out there on the track. I never got to go to a 500 with her, but it definitely is something that she would have, I’m sure, enjoyed greatly. It still gives me goosebumps to see her name and the logo.”
With a new job that has taken him away from Indiana, Graham isn’t sure if he’ll be able to attend the race with Paretta Autosport, but he plans to cheer De Silvestro on from afar. Stefan Wilson has also said he hopes to pay a visit to the Paretta Autosport garage and see car bearing the name of Graham’s grandmother that came via a significant contribution to his brother’s family.
“It’s not necessarily something being done for the glory,” Graham said. “It’s going to be something that a lot of people are going to see, but it’s definitely something that’s more personal that I’ll carry with me forever. I know my grandma would be behind the project, as well. She was a science teacher, loved the national parks, loved racing, and she would have been chomping at the bit to cheer this team owned by Beth that’s driven by women. It’s just still sort of surreal that it’s happening, but it’s definitely something our family is looking forward to.”