Graham Rahal admits he worries when Courtney, John and Brittany Force race

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When Graham Rahal asked his father for pre-marriage advice before he married Courtney Force in November 2015, Bobby Rahal cut right to the chase:

“I told Graham, “You do realize you’re marrying John, too, right?,” the elder Rahal said with a laugh.

That’s John, as in John Force, the winningest and most popular driver in NHRA drag racing history, and Courtney’s father.

But once he became John’s son-in-law, Graham quickly became a worry-wart, genuinely concerned about John, not to mention Graham’s wife Courtney and sister-in-law Brittany each time they get behind the wheel of either their Funny Cars or Top Fuel dragsters.

You’d worry about them too, given they routinely go over 330 mph in 1,000 feet.

During an interview with MotorSportsTalk earlier this week for an upcoming feature on he and his team for the upcoming 2018 season, we asked Graham his thoughts about John Force’s crash this past Sunday at Chandler, Arizona.

“Obviously, I was concerned because John’s had a lot of close calls the last couple years, of no fault of his own,” Rahal said. “They’ve just had a lot of weird stuff happen.

“I’d lie to you if I didn’t tell you that every time I watch those things, I’m just hoping and praying. I know everybody else watches it and think it’s awesome and fast and loud, but I think about it completely different.”

In the first two race weekends of the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, John Force Racing has endured quite a bit.

John Force had an engine explosion during qualifying for the season-opening race at Pomona, California, three weeks ago. He went to the hospital, was examined and released, and returned to the racetrack.

Then, two days later, Brittany Force, the 2017 defending NHRA Top Fuel champion, had the worst wreck of her career, suffering a concussion and severe bruising. She, too, went to the hospital, was held overnight and then released.

But there’s more: John suffered another massive engine explosion this past Sunday during the quarterfinals of eliminations. The explosion blew the body off Force’s car, he crossed into the lane of competitor Jonnie Lindberg, ran into Lindberg’s car, got tangled in the parachute cord of Lindberg, and both cars went back across the track and slammed into the outside retaining wall.

“I worry about my family members out there a lot, and unfortunately, the last couple weeks have been a bad couple weeks,” Graham Rahal said. “All I thought about was if he was okay.”

Particularly the impact John Force’s head suffered in the wreck.

“It didn’t look like it was that violent from a broken bones perspective, like maybe Brittany might have faced, but it looked violent from a head perspective,” Rahal said. “When it comes to your head, you only get one shot.”

John Force did not suffer any head injury or trauma, but Graham then worried about his wife, Courtney, who after John’s incident, advanced two more rounds to the finals, which she ultimately won, capturing her first national event victory since 2016.

Said Graham, “I just take that so seriously and get so concerned, that I just wanted to make sure (John Force) was okay, and obviously also that Courtney stayed focused because I knew Courtney had the best car all weekend, and just make sure she can go through and finish off the job – and she did a great job.”

What made things worse is that Rahal was in Sebring, Florida, for testing and was unable to make it to Phoenix, 2,000 miles away. But his heart, spirit and attention were.

“Drag racing, I enjoy it, I get the thrills of it, but I hate the thought of a driver becoming a passenger (losing control of the car), and unfortunately I see it too much,” he said. “And from a family perspective, I get too worried about that. It’s been a little bit tough the last couple of weeks.”

Rahal races next weekend in the Verizon IndyCar Series season opener at St. Petersburg. Courtney will likely be with him, as she doesn’t race again until the following weekend, just a few miles up the road at the NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla.

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Meyer Shank Racing wins Petit Le Mans to take final DPi championship in dramatic finale

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Meyer Shank Racing outdueled Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Petit Le Mans and clinch the championship in a thrilling final race for the DPi division.

Tom Blomqvist, who started from the pole position, drove the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 to a 4.369-second victory over Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

“That was incredible,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Matt Yocum. “I’ve never dug so deep in my life. The adrenaline. I did that for the guys. I was so motivated to win this thing this weekend. But I’ve got to thank everyone on the whole team.”

With co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves, Blomqvist helped MSR bookend its season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by winning Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Road Atlanta.

In between those two victories, the No. 60 earned five runner-up finishes to stay in the thick of the championship hunt and trail WTR’s No. 10 Acura by 14 points entering Saturday’s race.

WTR’s Filipe Albuquerque had a lead of more than 10 seconds over Blomqvist with less than 50 minutes remaining in the 10-hour race.

But a Turn 1 crash between the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs brought out a yellow that sent both Acuras into the pits from the top two positions.

Though he entered in second, Blomqvist barely beat Albuquerque out of the pits, and he held the lead for the final 45 minutes.

Blomqvist said he gained the lead because of a shorter fuel fill after he had worked on being efficient in the second-to-last stint.

“The team asked a big job of me with the fuel; I had a big fuel number to hit,” Blomqvist said. “We knew that was probably our only chance. The yellow came at the right time and obviously we had a bit less fuel to fill up, so I was able to jump him and then it was just a matter of going gung-ho and not leaving anything on the line. And obviously, the opposition had to try too hard to make it work. I’m so thankful.”

Albuquerque closed within a few car lengths of Blomqvist with 14 minutes remaining, but he damaged his suspension because of contact with a GT car in Turn 1.

It’s the first prototype championship for Meyer Shank Racing, which also won the 2021 Indy 500 with Castroneves.

“We’ve had in the last four years, three championships for Acura, the Indy 500 win and the Rolex 24, it doesn’t get any better,” team co-owner Mike Shank told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee.

It’s the third consecutive runner-up finish in the points standings for Wayne Taylor Racing, which won the first Daytona Prototype international championship in 2017. The premier category will be rebranded as the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with the LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that also includes Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The podium showing marked Johnson’s last scheduled race in IMSA’s top prototype division. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has raced in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac lineup as the Action Express entry has run the Endurance Cup races.

Johnson said a lack of inventory will preclude him having a 2023 ride in the top category. But he still is hopeful of racing the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly running in a lower class for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’d love to be at Le Mans next year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after his final stint Saturday. “I’d love to be at the Rolex 24. The series is going through a shake-up with the reconfiguration of the rules and classes, so I don’t have anything locked down yet, but I’m so thankful for this experience with Action. The support Ally has given us, Mr. Hendrick, Chad Knaus, all of Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a fun two years, and I certainly hope I’m on the grid again next year.”