Bobby Rahal goes to NHRA race to scout a driver — future daughter-in-law, Courtney Force


JOLIET, Il. – IndyCar team owner and former CART champion and Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal was on a scouting trip of sorts on Friday, checking out a driver.

This was a rather unique scouting trip, as Rahal was at Route 66 Raceway, and the driver is National Hot Rod Association Funny Car pilot Courtney Force. It’s the first time Rahal has been at an NHRA race in over a decade.

But Rahal isn’t going to hire Force for his IndyCar team. Rather, he wanted to see how his future daughter-in-law does behind the wheel, as Force and Bobby’s son, IndyCar driver Graham Rahal, are getting married in November in Santa Barbara, Calif.

“I’ve always been very impressed with this sport, and particularly now that my future daughter-in-law is out there,” Rahal said. “She’s a great girl and is doing a great job and it’s fun to come out and cheer her on.”

Rahal is also having fun hanging around Courtney’s father, legendary 16-time Funny Car champion John Force – who is such a contrast to his daughter.

“The first time I met her, Courtney was, I don’t want to say shy, but quiet – not like John,” Rahal said with a smile. “With John, he’s at the rev limit all the time.

“Courtney comes across as a very solid person, and as I’ve gotten to know her a lot better over the last year and a half or so, she’s a great girl. I’m very glad for both of them. She makes (Graham) happy and he makes her happy.”

And the younger Force can certainly wheel a Funny Car. She was No. 1 after the first qualifying round Friday and No. 4 after the second qualifying session later in the evening — two spots higher than dear old dad. There are two more qualifying rounds Saturday night.

There’s no question that the pending merger between two of the biggest names in motorsports may lead to some interesting times in the future.

When asked what direction his future grandkids might follow in motorsports, Rahal smiled and said, “I don’t know what direction they’re going to go, but I’m sure John’s going to do all he can do to make them drag racers.”

But Rahal appreciates his son’s future father-in-law for the person he is and all the achievements he’s made in drag racing.

“What I like about John is what you see is what you get, it’s not an act,” Rahal said. “I love John. I have a lot of respect for the guy, he’s made his way.

“In some respects, I wonder where drag racing would be without him. He’s such an engaging and popular figure, people love him. And I’m impressed that he’s a couple years older than me and he’s still going 300-plus mph, so he’s a lot braver I am, that’s for sure.”

When asked if he’s getting nervous at his son’s impending nuptials, Rahal’s face broke into a big smile.

“No, I’m not nervous because I don’t have to pay for that wedding,” he said with a laugh. “I called John up and left a message on his voicemail that this was going to be the most expensive wedding in Southern California in 2015.”

Like most fathers, Rahal has already given his son some advice about getting married — and about his future father-in-law.

“I told Graham,” the elder Rahal said with another big smile on his face, “you do realize you’re marrying John, too, right?”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws

More than two decades in the making, the pairing of Heather Lyne and Dennis Erb Jr. produced a historical milestone in Dirt Late Model.

Last month, Erb and his long-time crew chief Lyne won their first World of Outlaws Late Model Championship and with this achievement, Lyne became the first female crew chief to win in a national late model series. Their journey together goes back 21 years and tells the story of hard work, persistence and belief in oneself.

After a career-best season with the World of Outlaws, Erb and Lyne secured the points championship at US 36 Raceway in Osborn, Mo. with three races remaining in the season. The consistency and success of their season came down to pinpoint focus. Lyne and Erb are a team of two living out a David vs. Goliath tale. In order to be as successful as possible this year the duo knew they had to do as much as possible with the resources they had.

“It’s always a challenge when you only have two people, both at the racetrack and at the shop,” Lyne told NBC Sports. “I also work full time, so during the day, Dennis has to do a significant amount of work so that when I get down there I can start working and maintaining. It’s planning ahead. It’s having that system in place and making sure that you’re prepared ahead of time.

“When you have a problem at the track, making sure you have all that stuff ready so it’s a quick change and not a lengthy process to make a repair. We had zero DNFs in the World of Outlaws, we had only one DNF out of 96 races [combined among all series].”

Dennis Erb clinched his 2022 championship before the World of Outlaws World Finals. Jacy Norgaard – World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Taming Time

This was not an easy feat. Between a full travel schedule and Lyne’s full-time job as an engineer, time comes at a premium. What they lack in time and resources they made up for in patience and planning.

“We buckled down, and we got all the equipment that we needed back, motors freshened, and things of that nature,” Lyne said about the mid-point of last season. “We were able to keep up with that. We just had a higher focus. I tried to reduce my hours at my day job as much as I possibly could while still maintaining what I need to get done at work. I got rid of a lot of the other distractions and got a more refined system in place at the shop.

“We did certain tasks on certain days so we had time to recover. We were on the road a little bit more, as opposed to coming home to the shop. So we had to be more prepared to stay out on those longer runs. It was just really staying on top of things a little more. It was a heightened sense.”

This was Lyne and Erb’s fourth full season with the Outlaws, but they’ve been on the road together for the last 21 seasons starting in 2001. Their partnership began with Lyne’s bravery. When one door closed, she was quick to open another. In 2001, Lyne’s dad was ready to stop racing. Her mother wanted to regain her weekends, but Lyne knew this was her life path and wasn’t prepared to lose it.

“I’ve always been a tomboy at heart,” Lyne said. “I watched racing with my dad. Growing up he watched NASCAR. In high school, I got tired of playing at the lake house, so I went to the local dirt track and fell in love with it. I just couldn’t get enough. It took a year for me to convince my dad to come to the track with me. He finally did and we sponsored a car that year, the following year he started to race limited cars. He ran hobby stocks and limited late models.”

At some point, Lyne and her father’s level of commitment drifted apart.

“He did it for about five years,” Lyne said. “And then my mom said: ‘I’m done racing. I want my weekends back. It’s just not fun anymore.’ I wasn’t ready to hang up my wenches and Dennis raced out of the same hometown so I, on a dare, went down and introduced myself; told him if you ever need any help, I’ll drill out rivets, I’ll help wash, whatever you need. Twenty-one years later here I am.”

Heather Lyne became the first female crew chief to secure a national touring late model championship in 2022. Paul Arch / World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Breaking Through

Lyne entered a male-dominated job in a field that is also male-dominated – and where there were few examples of women creating these places for themselves. In this way, Lyne became a blueprint for other women as they strive to find a place for themselves in racing and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) overall. She has her mother to thank for providing a strong role model, her father for sharing her passion, Erb for taking a chance on an unknow entity and most importantly herself.

“I was raised to believe that I can do anything, I want to do, as long as I put my heart and soul into it.” Lyne replied when asked about role models in the sport growing up. “My parents did not raise me to have that limitation. But from a racing role model perspective, I went in there completely green and just introduced myself to Dennis, the fact that he was brave enough to take that risk and bring a girl to the racetrack. Someone he didn’t know at all speaks volumes for him.”

Lyne and Erb have learned how to survive and succeed with each other on the road. They do this by leveraging decades of combined experience and an ability to adapt to the everchanging landscape of dirt late models. Next year the World of Outlaws visits nearly a dozen new tracks and Lyne sees it as an opportunity for continued success.

“I just want to do it again,” Lyne says going into next season, “I’m looking forward to the competition, I always do. I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t competitively driven.

“There are some new tracks on the schedule that I’m looking forward to trying for the first time that I haven’t been to myself,” Lyne said of the 2023 season, “Dennis seems to do well on those first timers. We won out at Marion center, we finished second at Bloomsburg. We have a good solid notebook of information to tackle them over the last three years with these rocket race cars that we’re running. It’s good to have that information and leverage it to try some new things.”