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Graham Rahal earns racing stripes before driving for pop Bobby

Graham Rahal

Graham Rahal

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What: 500-mile race in IndyCar series; 200 laps at Indianapolis ­Motor Speedway (21/2-mile oval).

Time/TV: 11 a.m. Sunday, Ch. 7 (coverage begins at 10 a.m.).

Tickets: For information, call 800-822-INDY or visit

Updated: June 26, 2013 6:17AM

INDIANAPOLIS — Unlike Chicago politicians who think government is their family business, Bobby Rahal thinks the next generation should earn its spurs — even in a family business.

When his son, Graham, showed a passion for auto racing, the 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner wanted him to go drive for others. So Graham began a journey that included stints with Newman/Haas/Lanigan and Target/Ganassi.

He experienced the high of becoming the youngest IndyCar race-winner when he took the checkered flag at St. Petersburg, Fla., in 2008. He also knew the low of 2010, when he scrambled to drive for four teams after a sponsorship deal fell through.

‘‘It was important for Graham as a person to go out and see the rest of the world,’’ Bobby Rahal said. ‘‘He was very fortunate to be with great teams. He also had a year where things fell apart. It’s not all a given. You have to work hard for it. I think he did.’’

When Graham signed on to drive for Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing this season, there were no questions about nepotism. This was a union that made sense from any point of view. Before going into the family business, so to speak, the son had paid his dues. Big-time.

‘‘It’s important for anybody to go out on their own and gain respect,’’ Graham, 24, said. ‘‘It was right to go out and be with the other operations I drove for, but it’s best that we’re here now. As I talked to a lot of different teams last fall, it became apparent to me that this is where I wanted to be, and where I needed to be, to further my career.’’

Marco Andretti, who started his IndyCar driving career at 19, followed the other path. He has always driven for his father, Michael, but silenced critics by winning at Sonoma and being the series’ rookie of the year in 2006.

‘‘The advantages are, if you’re winning with your dad, there’s nobody else you want to win with,’’ Marco said. ‘‘But if you’re not, the perception is that you only have the ride for that reason. But that’s the situation anywhere you are. You have to perform. The best scenario is to win with your father.’’

Graham hasn’t cracked that nut yet, but both Rahals feel the team is knocking on the door. Graham, who finished second at Long Beach on April 21, will start 26th at Indy.

If he hasn’t shown eye-opening speed at the Brickyard this month, Indy often is a race that comes down to a lot more than speed. In that regard, the younger Rahal has the genes and the background to follow in his father’s milk-drinking footsteps.

He also has a savvy, familiar voice guiding him on his radio.

‘‘I’ve seen a lot of the relationship,’’ said Mike Lanigan, co-owner of the team with Rahal and talk-show host David Letterman. ‘‘Graham could not have a better teacher than Bobby to complete the master’s degree in racing. Graham learned everything on his own. This is kind of the icing on the cake. And I haven’t seen them argue one bit.’’

‘‘Our radio’s gotten interesting a couple of times,’’ Graham added. ‘‘But never that bad.’’

They’re father and son. But the son has proved himself in the outside world.

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