Last night I had the pleasure of speaking with Graham Rahal, IndyCar driver and Blue Jackets fan. Graham is in California prepping for the Grand Prix of Long Beach race this weekend, and last night he took in the Jackets-Ducks game. We spoke prior to the game about hockey, racing, and similarities between the two sports. He also gave me his prediction on whether or not the Jackets make the playoffs! Without further ado:
Mike MacLean: Thanks for taking time to chat, Graham.
MM: I hear you're a fan of the Blue Jackets! Give us your thoughts on their season so far.
Graham Rahal: They've been doing a great job, started the season ugly and lackluster, but have responded well. Everybody wrote them off, and now they're in the thick of the playoffs. Hockey's a great sport with great people, that's for sure.
MM: Do you have a favorite player?
GR: I'm good buddies with James Wisniewski, so probably him.
MM: If you were a pro hockey player, what kind of style would you bring to the ice? Rough and tumble like Jared Boll, a sniper like Gaborik, a high energy guy like Matt Calvert?
GR: Probably more of a Gaborik type. I like to think strategically, and I think that's a big part of being a top goal scorer. He's been really impressive. I've never played hockey, and I wish I could go back in time so that I could have played, but that's the kind of player I would have tried to be.
MM: What other sport(s) did you play growing up (or still play)?
GR: Growing up I played basketball and soccer, that's pretty much it. Hockey is a more recent thing for me; I got hooked when the NHL first came to Columbus.
MM: What other Ohio teams do you root for? Which Cleveland team do you think is closest to winning?
GR: I'm all-Ohio, all of ‘em. I think the Indians are closest to winning, with World Series winner Terry Francona as manager. The Cavs are pretty good with Kyrie Irving, but if Lebron couldn't lead the Cavs to a championship I don't think Irving will.
MM: A typical routine for an NHLer on game day involves a morning skate, maybe some media time, lunch and a nap before the game. What sort of routine do you have in the week leading up to a race, and on race day?
GR: Leading up to a race you're doing media every day. There's also practice and qualifying, it's pretty much a three to four day trip every race. There's very little free time. Tomorrow for example I'll be doing a sponsorship appearance and more media. I did get in some golf, but I don't normally arrive this early before a race.
MM: Hockey of course is a team sport. For non-racing fans, what are some of the benefits during a race that a teammate can provide?
GR: There are advantages to having teammates as it gives you somebody to lean on and learn from. It's harder for a single driver because you don't have those guys to work with.
MM: So the advantages are more off the track, than on?
MM: You're with RLL racing this year, your father's team. Is there added pressure being the son of a racing star and now, having him as your boss?
GR: At times there can be more pressure, but there is for any driver. You have to put it behind you and focus on winning races. Others can't expect more of you than you expect of yourself.
MM: What are your personal expectations for the 2013 IndyCar season?
GR: Win races! Every driver has the sole focus of winning every season.
MM: Have you always wanted to be a driver?
GR: I've always been around racing, but it hasn't been a given. Dad kept me out of it, knowing what the expectations would be, but he was very open and let me figure things out on my own.
MM: When you're on the road, what do you miss most about Ohio?
GR: Just being home. Whether its parties with friends, nights out, going to the movies...you ask a Blue Jacket or any athlete who travels a lot and they say the same thing. People say that it's so cool to be able to travel so much, but after you keep going to the same cities over and over you just miss being home doing the things that most people take for granted. We're very fortunate to live the lifestyle that we do, but you miss being in your home when you're away.
MM: For the second year in a row, you'll be helping to raise funds through a ticket deal for the Columbus Zoo Africa exhibit. Can you tell us about that?
GR: At the Mid-Ohio race, we sell tickets through the Graham Rahal Foundation with the proceeds going to the Columbus Zoo. We're going to expand, but for now we do it at Mid-Ohio because Columbus is home, and Jack Hanna is my godfather.
MM: Quick prediction- do the Jackets make the playoffs this year?
GR: If I was superstitious I'd say no, but I think they'll squeak in. You look at their shootout win in Minnesota the other day, and the overtime win against Colorado. The Avs aren't good, but they were up a goal late after scoring on the powerplay and the Jackets managed to tie it up and then win it in overtime. They have the will to win, and they are finding ways to win. They're peaking at the right time.
MM: Thanks again Graham, and have fun at the game tonight!