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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Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.