Bobby Rahal is the second of three generations of racing drivers. His 18 year motorsport career includes noteworthy competition in multiple disciplines including Formula 1, Can Am, CART, Le Mans and IMSA. He is a 3-time CART champion who has also claimed victories at the 1981 24 hours of Daytona and 1987 12 hours of Sebring.
His love for automobiles and racing came from his father, who immigrated from Lebanon in the 1920s and joined the Navy at the age of 17. After serving in the war as a torpedo man on the USS Macdonough destroyer in the South Pacific for four years and later finishing college, his father became involved in the sports car world in the 1950s, giving a young Bobby Rahal his early exposure to the racing scene at races such as the Road America 500 at the Road America course in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
Michael Rahal, Bobby’s father, had begun racing with an Austin-Healey 100 LM and graduated to race prepared Elvas. In 1967 he purchased a 1964 Elva Porsche Mark VII from Lee Hall, who was a key figure in the Chicago area SCCA and major investor in the Road America Speedway. Bobby was not racing yet at the time, instead assisting in the pits during the races.
The Elva Porsche was the product of midwest Porsche distributor Oliver Schmidt convincing Elva importer Carl Haas that the potent Fuhrmann four-cam engine mounted in the ultra-light Elva Mark VII chassis would make for a very strong USRRC (United States Road Racing Championship) competitor. They were correct in their hunch because in its very first outing, the Elva Porsche beat the fastest cars in America at the Road America 500. The planned production run of 15 units sold out shortly after its outing at Elkhart Lake. In total, 19 Elva Porsche’s were produced, two of which were delivered without drivetrains, and just 12 are known to exist today.
It was in this car that Bobby ran his first novice race when he was just 17 at a race at Harewood Acres circuit in Canada. He had been leading the race when he spun off into the adjacent field and buried the Elva up to the axles in mud.
Bobby convinced his father in the late 1960s to sell the Elva to fund the purchase of 906-113 that had been originally owned and driven by Ed Hugus in 1966. The 906 opened doors for the Rahal family, as it qualified for larger races such as the Sebring 12 hour, Watkins Glen, and the Daytona 24 hour endurance races and led to creating personal relationships within the Porsche family.
Fast forward to 1979- Bobby Rahal attended the last IMSA race of the year and introduced himself to Bob Garretson (driver and partner in Garretson Enterprises) and the team at Garretson Enterprises. It proved to be a key interaction as it gained Bobby a seat in the Apple Computer 935 K3 in 1980 and again in 1981 alongside teammate Brian Redman. The first outing of 1981 was the 24 Hours of Daytona against stiff competition with a field of nearly 20 other 935s run by professional teams. In the end, they took the victory in the #9 Cooke Woods 935 through steady driving and avoiding mechanical issues throughout the night. A month later, during the 12 hours of Sebring, Bob Garretson went off the track and into the tire wall, causing the 935 to slowly roll onto its roof. After they righted the car, Bobby volunteered to take the next stint in the damaged car, complete with crushed roof and missing windshield. His performance clearly caught the attention of other teams, as he raced throughout the 1981 season in 935s with four different teams- Interscope Racing, Momo/Penthouse, Cooke-Woods Racing and Bob Akin Motor Racing. He raced with Akin again in 1984, after Akin commissioned “the last 935” 935/84 in the iconic Coca-Cola livery with a bespoke Fabspeed fiberglass body.
In 1984, Bobby found himself behind the wheel of the Bayside Disposal Racing Porsche 962 with Hurley Haywood at the 500km Mid-Ohio, finishing strong in 3rd place. The following year, this time in the Dyson Racing 962, he claimed victory at the 500 mile Road America and an 8th place finish at the 3 hours of Daytona finale.
This, of course, is just a tiny glimpse into the career of the man who has been referred to as “The Graceful Champion”. In this video, Cam Ingram and Ray Shaffer dive deep with Bobby Rahal as he shares some of the stories and insights into his incredible career.