Graham Rahal has been inspired by all that transpired from introducing team sponsor Hy-Vee to the NTT IndyCar Series and the amazing Hy-Vee IndyCar Weekend at Iowa doubleheader that followed.
The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver, who owns multiple automotive and motorcycle-related businesses and is building a new 115,000 square-foot facility in Indiana to house those interests, could also add a new business venture to his plate after turning his attention to event promotions.
Using the Iowa model of a large in-state company rising to partner with the series and make sizable investments in promotions and entertainment for a race weekend, Rahal struck upon the idea of organizing a street race in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Take a little bit of Nashville’s racing around the Tennessee Titans’ stadium, import the idea to the surrounding area where Pittsburgh Steelers’ call home, and bring the sport of IndyCar to a new audience.
“I’m not gonna sit here and be stagnant,” Rahal told RACER. “I want to grow the sport, and what I’ve come up with is which locations could we go to that have consumer-facing products, that are sponsors in the sport, already?
“And so when you get into that list of who’s a consumer-facing product, in our sport, you have two major ones with PPG and PNC Bank, both located in Pittsburgh. I feel like we can easily tap into the Hy-Vee approach in the marketplace, because ultimately, those businesses have massive marketing budgets to be able to reach consumers like a Hy-Vee would.”
Rahal started the process by searching for where the major sponsors in IndyCar are located and determining if there was a regional void with the open-wheel series’ presence.
“I looked at our sponsor Fifth Third Bank, which is based Cincinnati, Ohio, but we hit Mid-Ohio, we hit Indianapolis, so doing a Cincinnati street race doesn’t jump out as a need right now,” he continued. “Pittsburgh came up because there’s multiple big businesses that are that are located there, so that’s what I’ve been trying to develop. Iowa has become the standard in that tone has been set and we want to take the sport to the next level. That has to become the expectation.”
Pittsburgh isn’t the only idea Rahal has come up with, but it’s the one where he’s placing his focus as a start. As Formula 1 continues to make great gains with ‘pop-up’ street races, making the formula work again for IndyCar in North America is driving the 33-year-old’s exploration.
“If I look at Formula 1, and I’ve used this example multiple times, the racing product is not thrilling,” he said. “It’s not. But the racing product does not need to be thrilling, because the sexiness of the sport carries it so far. The hype of the sport carries that sport to big heights that none of us are seeing currently. OK, but ultimately, IndyCar has to get to that level.
“And to get to that level, we have to raise the sexiness and the appeal of our sport like Hy-Vee did in Iowa did. It paid them back tenfold, and that’s what I’m trying to get other sponsors to be considering as well to do something new.”