Mid-Ohio Notes: Rahal Brings Force With Him as Campsite Judge

LEXINGTON, Ohio – The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio has been a traditionally prestigious race for the Verizon IndyCar Series for over three decades.

Another new and fun tradition during the weekend is the Camping with Honda campsite decorating contest with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal.

Rahal, the 2015 Honda Indy 200 victor, made his way around the campgrounds of the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the second consecutive year on Saturday after qualifying fourth for today’s race. His task was to judge camping setups of rabid INDYCAR fans following the galactic theme “May the G-forces be with you.” Fans with the most creative decorations were crowned the winners and won prizes.

Rahal, a native of New Albany, Ohio, enjoyed the chance to connect with the fans of Mid-Ohio. He remembers being in their position when, as a child, he wandered the grounds while his dad, Bobby, competed in Indy car races on track.

“It’s awesome out here,” Rahal said. “I grew up staying here at the track when the race was here. My sisters and a lot of my crew guys now camp out here for the race weekend.

“Honda has done a great job promoting the excitement around the camping atmosphere and everything else out here. It’s a special place to be and a special place to stay.”

After viewing the campsites and following much deliberation, Rahal dubbed the group of Luke Conway and friends from Indianapolis one of the contest’s winners. Conway’s design highlighted the multi-generation racing rivalry between the Rahal and the Andretti families, with the Rahals portrayed as heroes and the Andrettis as villains.

Conway is a regular at Mid-Ohio and enjoys the atmosphere of camping out for the race weekend.

“My friend Joel actually knew about the rivalry between Bobby Rahal and Michael Andretti, so we wanted to do something on that,” Conway said. “We just love being out here at Mid-Ohio. Some of the drivers come out here to the campsites and you’re able to be personal with them. It’s just a great time out here.”

Candidates named for Team USA Scholarship selection process

Ten aspiring open-wheel drivers ages 16 to 23 have been named candidates for the 2017 Team USA Scholarship that provides the opportunity for selectees to compete in international racing events later this year to jump-start their careers.

The winners also earn an invitation to compete for the Mazda Road to Indy $200,000 USF2000 Scholarship Shootout, which provides for a ride in the 2018 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda – the beginning level of the Mazda Road to Indy, the development ladder sanctioned by INDYCAR for teams and drivers aiming to reach the Verizon IndyCar Series. Oliver Askew, a 20-year-old from Jupiter, Florida, earned both the Team USA and USF2000 shootout scholarships last year and is currently leading the USF2000 championship with seven wins in 13 races.

The selection panel for the Team USA Scholarship is comprised of a cross-section of motorsports professionals, including Verizon IndyCar Series driver and former Mazda Road to Indy star Spencer Pigot; Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires driver Aaron Telitz and team owner Brian Belardi; Mike Hull, managing director at Chip Ganassi Racing; and former Indy car driver and current Cooper Tires technical consultant Johnny Unser.

The first stage of the scholarship process consisted of candidate interviews this weekend at Mid-Ohio with the selection panel.

The 10 candidates and their current racing affiliation are: Sabre Cook, 23, Grand Junction, Colorado (GPfour Championship Road Racing); Konrad Czacyk, 20, Jupiter, Florida (F1600 Formula Tour Championship Canada); Elliot Finlayson, 21, Yorkville, Illinois (GPfour Championship Road Racing); Aaron Jeansonne, 18, Sulphur, Louisiana (Lucas Oil School of Racing); Kyle Kirkwood, 18, Jupiter, Florida (F4 U.S. Championship powered by Honda); Jonathan Kotyk, 23, Atlantic Beach, Florida (F1600 Championship Series); Jacob Loomis, 17, Corinth, Texas (F4 U.S. Championship and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship); David Osborne, 21, Cincinnati (F1600 Championship Series); Simon Sikes, 16, Martinez, Georgia (Skip Barber Racing Series); and Carter Williams, 18, Clovis, California (Formula Car Challenge presented by Goodyear).

Past Team USA Scholarship winners include current Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Pigot, Conor Daly, JR Hildebrand, Charlie Kimball and Josef Newgarden, as well as retired Indy car race winners Bryan Herta and Jimmy Vasser.

INDYCAR drivers make special visits to hospitals

INDYCAR drivers fanned out across central and northeastern Ohio in advance of the Mid-Ohio race weekend to brighten the days of young hospital patients.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Scott Dixon stopped in Cleveland on Thursday to visit the Angie Fowler Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Institute, part of the Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital. Dixon spent time with patients ahead of their “smoothie day” cancer treatments, playing foosball with a few of the youngsters.

The Fowler Institute is a partner with Roger Daltrey’s Teen Cancer America program. The lead singer of The Who visited the facility a week ago and donated a signed guitar that now hangs there.

“I tell you what, it’s actually inspiring for me,” Dixon said after the visit. “These teens are going through something that hopefully a lot of us don’t have to ever go through, but everybody knows someone who has had to go through cancer treatment.

“How upbeat they are is insane. That’s I think the most interesting part for me. When I was talking to the young man (who is a fan of) wrestling, he said, ‘The treatment is OK, but I get to go home. A lot of other kids don’t. I have to come in twice a week and each treatment takes five hours, but I’ve got lots of other things I can do and I’m excited for.’

“They handle it so well. It makes you realize that mundane, day-to-day things that you kind of get annoyed about are very small compared to situations other people have to deal with.”

Dixon has worked with teens for years, beginning with CanTeen in his home New Zealand and now with Teens Living with Cancer in America. Some patients from the Fowler Institute are scheduled to visit Dixon at today’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.

Meanwhile, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing co-owner Bobby Rahal and his son/driver Graham visited Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus on Thursday. Graham’s No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda was also on display.

Nationwide Children’s holds a special place in the Rahals’ hearts. Both have been involved with various hospital events over the years and the Bobby Rahal Foundation has donated more than $1 million to Nationwide Children’s.

The Rahals again served as hosts for Thursday night’s Safelite AutoGlass Rally for the Ranch, a fundraiser dinner at the Hollywood Casino Columbus that honored Tony Kanaan, who’s celebrating his 20th season racing Indy cars. In six years, the event has raised $1.4 million for The Buckeye Ranch, which provides emotional, behavioral and mental health services for children, young adults and families throughout central and southwestern Ohio.

Also on Thursday, Dalton Kellett – the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires driver for Andretti Autosport – visited Akron Children’s Hospital as part of the Racing For Kids program that takes place in INDYCAR race markets. In addition to spending time with patients, Kellett helped present the hospital with a Fregrin Flyer wagon specially outfitted with an IV pole for ease in transporting bedridden children.