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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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Alex Palou fastest as several go off course during IndyCar practice at IMS

IndyCar Harvest GP practice
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Alex Palou paced the opening practice Thursday for the IndyCar Harvest GP at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

The Dale Coyne Racing rookie turned a 1-minute, 10.177-second lap around the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course in his No. 55 Dallara-Honda.

Jack Harvey was second, followed by Colton Herta, points leader Scott Dixon and Max Chilton.

PRACTICE CHART: Click here to see the speed rundown from Thursday’s session

FRIDAY AT IMS: Details for watching Race 1 of the Harvest GP

Qualifying for Friday’s race will be at 6:20 p.m. ET Thursday on NBC Sports Gold.

Will Power, who won the pole position for the July 4 race at the track, spun off course with just more than a minute left in the session after the left rear of his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet made slight contact with the right front of Alexander Rossi’s No. 28 Dallara-Honda.

Power was among several drivers who went off track, but there were no damaged cars during the session. Marcus Ericsson missed the final 5 minutes of the practice after being penalized for causing a red flag with a Turn 8 spin.

Arrow McLaren SP drivers Pato O’Ward and Helio Castroneves, who is driving for Oliver Askew (who is recovering from concussion-like symptoms), also veered off course as did rookie Rinus VeeKay and Santino Ferrucci.

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson was in attendance at the session before racing Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. Johnson will be driving a partial schedule of road and street courses in IndyCar next season for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“Literally, the smallest of details, I can pick up on,” Johnson told NBC Sports pit reporter Kevin Lee. “It’s been really nice today just to see how a session starts and obviously to jump on the radio and listen to how the systems work and then obviously you get into the car and the setup and such. I’m at ground zero right now, a 45-year-old rookie trying to learn my way into a new sport essentially.”

Johnson told Lee his sponsorship hunt to run a Ganassi car “has gone really well. The fact that I’m here today and ingrained so deeply in the team is a great sign of where things are going. Looking forward to getting behind the wheel of a car soon and hopefully having some announcements for the world to see soon, too.”

Fans were in attendance Thursday for the first time this season at IMS, which is allowed a limited crowd of 10,000 for its races this weekend.