After missing his shot at college, Graham Rahal keeps high priority on higher education

Graham Rahal college
Fifth Third Bank

Graham Rahal still has the letter signifying when his college dream essentially ended before it ever truly started.

“I think it’s huge to go, and it was always my full intention,” Rahal, 33, told NBC Sports. “I applied. I was accepted. In fact, I found my letter when I kept deferring, and they were finally like, ‘Hey, you’re like 30 years old, you can’t defer anymore. You have to reapply.’ ”

Rahal, of course, did not resubmit an application to Dennison University (a liberal arts college in Granville, Ohio, where his father, Bobby, went before winning the 1986 Indy 500), having already established a career in the NTT IndyCar Series that began when he was 18.

The six-time IndyCar winner is ninth in the points standings four races into his 16th season and soon will begin preparations for his 15th start in the Indy 500 (the 106th running will take place May 29 with coverage starting at 11 a.m. ET on NBC).

But Rahal’s passion for getting an education also remains strong and was evident as he helped Fifth Third Bank (which co-sponsors his No. 15 Dallara-Honda at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing) with a promotion for establishing college funds.

“College is a great asset,” Rahal said. “I think it’s also important to have a balance and understand working because the common sense of real life sometimes is eye-opening, too.

“But I think (college is) really, really important and also with tuition just climbing so much that we’ve got to be prepared as a society for our kids. And I think parents as best as possible need to help plan for that, too.”

Rahal visited three Indianapolis area hospitals Tuesday as Fifth Third celebrated its namesake day (May 3) by providing the parents of 77 newborns across 19 health systems with $1,053 gift cards to open a 529 college savings account (in partnership with the Gift of College).

The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver also delivered gift boxes (with onesies, sleep sacks and self-care items for moms) and helped provide baked treats for maternity ward nurses.

“These people that had babies last night or this morning, probably the last thing they want to do is see me walk into their room after delivering a baby,” Rahal said. “But in the case that they do, this will turn on a light bulb for them that, ‘Oh wow, I can put in a hundred bucks this year. Or maybe I can afford to put in a thousand bucks. Maybe I can afford to put 10 bucks in, but it’s something, and it makes a difference.”

It also hits home for Rahal, who became a father 18 months ago to Harlan. Wife Courtney is due with their second child in mid-September.

As “a planner,” Graham would like to know the gender but said, “I’d imagine we will find out the minute it pops out because Courtney is very particular about not knowing, and that’s fine. It was probably one of life’s greatest surprises. This time I’d like to be prepared.”

Naturally, he already has begun preparing for Harlan’s future by alternating annual investments between a traditional savings plan and a 529 college fund (which is tax-advantaged.

“With Harlan to have her education is so critical to her success as a person and professionally, whatever she so decides to do in 25 years, God knows what that may be,” Rahal said. “My grandparents did a lot to help us, and so yes, it does hit home.

“When Fifth Third first approached me and said, ‘This is what we’re thinking about doing,’ it was quite clearly a yes from me because I literally am living this at this time, and I realize that maybe some people have the ability to put in more than others, but every bit helps and getting prepared and thinking down the road is what you need to be doing.”

Amid skyrocketing tuition costs and a spirited national discussion over how long a pause on federal college loans (which began during the pandemic) will continue, Rahal said he was focused on raising awareness of his belief that a small contribution now “can make a big difference 20 years from now.

“In my case, 18 years from now when (Harlan) goes off to college, hopefully, it’s paid for,” he said. “And God knows with the prices of college and everything else climbing the way it has, but hopefully you get ahead of it, and when the time comes, there’s no stress there.”

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images

Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.