Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal has been on a fast track to the top of the racing world 0ver the last several seasons. He became the youngest driver ever to win a Verizon IndyCar Series race in 2008 and he won two additional races this past season, enjoying perhaps his best season to date in his previous nine years of major American open wheel competition. In addition to his on track successes, he’s also been busy in the world outside of his No. 15 Steak N’ Shake Restaurants Honda. He recently married John Force Racing Funny Car veteran driver Courtney Force and earlier this week had the ultimate ride in Phoenix, joining forces with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds show team on Thursday.
Riding shotgun behind USAF Major Kevin Walsh in an F-16 Fighting Falcon at Luke Air Force Base, was something that for now Rahal says was the coolest thing he has ever done in his life.
“You climb to 15,000 feet, literally in seconds … all the maneuvers (they perform) are really cool,” Rahal said. “We got up to 9.3 in G-force, which is incredible. The sensation and the way it pushes the weight down on your body is so extreme.”
For comparison purposes, the IndyCars which will compete Saturday night in the Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix International Raceway only reach about five lateral Gs of force upon the driver and of course much less in terms of actual speed.
“When you’re pulling heavy G-forces, at eight Gs you can’t breathe,” said Rahal. “That’s similar to what we do. Here in Phoenix, through Turn 1, I’m not going to breathe.”
The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds date all the way back to the times of World War I in 1917, while the show team made its debut in May of 1953. The show team, known for its famous four-plane diamond and six-plane delta formations, showcase to fans throughout the U.S. and the rest of the world in show form, many of the maneuvers and actions taken in actual combat situations, minus of course the firing of bullets or missiles. Four different planes had been utilized by the Thunderbirds, when their current General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon made its debut in 1983.
In addition to their annual slate of appearances at air shows nationwide, the Thunderbirds have also participated in flyovers for major sporting events, including the Indianapolis 500, flying above the main straightaway following the National Anthem or the ceremonial playing of “Taps.” Rahal’s excitement on Thursday adds him to the list of several other drivers in IndyCar and NASCAR who have taken a back seat with either the USAF Thunderbirds or the U.S. Navy’s equivalent, The Blue Angels.
IndyCar.com contributed to this report.