Indy 500 legends explain what ‘The Brickyard’ means to them

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With the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 now almost here, NBC Sports recently reached out to several Indy 500 winning drivers and owners, to hear their thoughts on what makes the race such a special event.  Click the links below to see what each Indy 500 legend had to say:

THE 103RD INDIANAPOLIS 500: Click here for how to watch, full daily schedules

Mario Andretti

For Mario Andretti, winning the Indianapolis 500 was the realization of a 13-year-old boy’s dream. He lauded the tradition of the race that other major sports events just can’t match.

Click here for Mario’s thoughts on what makes the Indy 500 so special to him

Michael Andretti

Five-time Indy 500 winning owner Michael Andretti shared with NBC Sports his first memories of the race from 1969 when his father won and described IMS as “sacred ground” where finishing first is what everyone dreams about.

Click here so see why the Indy 500 means so much to Michael

Roger Penske

Roger Penske remembered his first Indy 500 victory as a “game-changer” for his racing team, and the 17-time winning owner calls Indianapolis Motor Speedway the “foundation of all racing.”

Click here for to hear from the most successful owner in Indy 500 history

Bobby Unser

“If these bricks could talk, you wouldn’t believe what they’d say,” Bobby Unser, three-time Indianapolis 500 champion and the second-oldest man ever to win the Indy 500, said.

Click here for “Uncle Bobby’s” thoughts on “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”

Dario Franchitti

Three-time Indy 500 champion Dario Franchitti explained to NBC Sports why The Brickyard means so much and touched on the family ties that bind Indianapolis Motor Speedway year after year.

Click here for three-time champ’s thoughts.

Rick Mears

Four-time Indianapolis 500 champion Rick Mears said that his success at IMS surpassed his wildest dreams, and that he didn’t understand what it meant initially to win the “Super Bowl” of IndyCar.

Click here to for the thoughts of a four-time Indy 500 champion. 

Johnny Rutherford

Three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Johnny Rutherford explained to NBC Sports why Indianapolis Motor Speedway is “just the place to be” every Memorial Day weekend.

Click here for “Lone Star JR’s” thought’s

Parnelli Jones

Indianapolis 500 winner Parnelli Jones explained why that fateful day in 1963 was “the greatest thing [he] could do” and that he’ll “never have a better day than the day [he] pulled into victory lane.”

Click here to see what the 1963 winner had to say 

Coverage of the 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500 begins Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN, then moves over to NBC at 11:00 a.m. ET.

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Graham Rahal’s “Weighty Issue”

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens
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MONTEREY, California – Graham Rahal admits that he can’t wait until the day he doesn’t have to worry about his weight. Being a 6-foot-2, big-boned individual can have its advantages, but not when it comes to fitting into an IndyCar.

That is why the son of 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time CART IndyCar champion Bobby Rahal has begun a body shaping therapy known as “Sculpting” that uses laser to trim away body fat.

“Honestly, it is no secret, I’m not shy about this, that I’ve struggled with my weight,” the 201-pound Rahal told a group of reporters during INDYCAR’s Open Test at Laguna Seca on Thursday. “I can guarantee you that from a strength perspective and a stamina perspective, there’s very few guys out here that can keep up with me. I’m just not a super skinny build. It’s never been my thing.

“I’ve tried. We’ve kind of looked around, there was some mutual interest from them to look into trying this, see if it works. I’ll be honest. I was always very skeptical of the stuff. Where I’m at, I’ve done one treatment. I can’t even tell you today if it’s something that really works or not.”

That led Rahal to try out the sculpting process that was invented by a doctor who found it with swelling in kid’s cheeks. The “Sculpture” process uses a laser that kills the fatty cells.

“I’ve done one treatment,” Rahal said. “It takes a long time, I think. It’s going to take multiple I think to get there.”

Watch Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on NBC at 3 p.m.

A race driver needs to be thin, yet very strong to have the physical strength and stamina to compete at a high level in the race car. When it comes to the NTT IndyCar Series, it’s even more important because of the size of the cars and tight cockpit.

Additionally, the extra weight can impact the performance of the race car. The lighter the driver, the less weight inside of the car and that can determine. In INDYCAR, drivers are weighed and for the lighter weight drivers, lead weight is added to the car to meet a requirement.

But in Rahal’s case, the lead weight ballast has to be reduced and that sometimes throws off the center of gravity in the car.

“The facts are it’s not going to work if you don’t work out, too, and eat well,” Rahal said. “It doesn’t do anything. But earlier this year, man, I had given up drinking completely for three, four months. I was working out every day, twice a day on most occasions. I went to a nutritionist, doing everything. I literally was not losing an ounce. It was the most frustrating period of time for me.

“I am the biggest guy here. Is it ever going to be equal for me? No matter what these guys talk about with driver ballast, it’s a whole different thing, where my center of gravity is, so on…”

That is what led the 30-year-old driver from Ohio to study the “Sculpting” procedure. He realizes he is never going to have the metabolism of some of the thinner drivers, but he needs to maintain a weight that minimizes his disadvantage.

“It is a challenge,” he admitted. “Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves (on Penske Team Acura in IMSA) weigh 60 pounds less than me or something. There is no ballast there. That’s a big swing, a lot of weight to be carrying around.

“We have to try anything we can. If you’re going to be serious, try to find the performance advantage and the edge, you’ve got to look outside of the box.

It is something new for me. But the fight I guess against being an ultra-skinny guy…

“I fly home with most of these guys after races, I see most of these guys a lot of times, they’re sitting there eating In-N-Out Burger, whatever else. Literally I cannot do it. If I do it, it immediately reflects for me. These guys you see them the next weekend, they’re like this big.

“It’s like, (bleep), it’s not my build.”

Because of Rahal’s height and size, he chose to step away from the endurance races for Team Penske in IMSA at the end of last season. He was replaced at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring by fellow IndyCar driver Alexander Rossi.

Rahal complained that the steering wheel actually hit his legs inside of the Acura, making it difficult for him to drive on the challenging road courses. Since that time, Acura Team Penske has moved the steering column up by a few inches and it no longer impacts a driver the size of Rahal.

For the IMSA season-ending Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on October 12, Rahal will be back in the Team Penske Acura.

“Back in the (Team Penske) shop three weeks ago, I could actually turn the steering wheel, which I was shocked about,” Rahal said. “My head touched the roof, whatever, I’m used to that. Physically being able to steer, which I now should be able to do better.

“So I’m excited about it. It’s another great opportunity obviously with Penske. But more importantly for me is Acura, Honda. It’s a great thing to be back in.

“But that wasn’t a weight thing. It’s purely size. They just don’t build cars for guys my size. I used to talk to J.W. (Justin Wilson) about that. It’s the facts of life. Even the GT cars. You would think a GT car would be big. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a GT car, I was comfortable in either. They’re built for small guys. That’s the way it goes.”

Rahal is taller than his father, Bobby, who is also his IndyCar team owner along with David Letterman and Michael Lanigan.

“I blame my dad,” Rahal said. “I do. You can tell him I said that. I told him, ‘It’s a genetic thing. I got good genes in some ways.’

“I told my wife this the other day, I’m very excited for someday when my career ends just to have a ‘Dad Bod,’ be able to let go for a minute, see how things turn out, because this is getting a little bit exhausting.

“We’re going to stay committed through the winter. I try my hardest every year, but I never tried harder this year to be thin. I weigh about the same as last year, but it took so much effort to get there, I just have to think outside the box.”