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Racing families keep pedal to metal, eye on safety

Bobby Rahal spent two decades pushing the thought of danger out of his mind to have a championship open-wheel racing career.

Sixteen years after his retirement, Rahal has a different role as an IndyCar series team owner. But his task during today's Indianapolis 500 task is the same, if not tougher: block out the thought of 200 mph wrecks while watching his son Graham race in the car he owns.

"As a parent, you want your child to have (the tools) to succeed, to achieve the goals they've set for themselves," Rahal said. "That drives me more. That gets me going more than the thought of him getting hurt."

The Rahals are one of many families who will balance the thought of fun and fear during auto racing's biggest weekend, which culminates with today's Grand Prix of Monaco, Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600.

Rahal, the 1986 Indy 500 champion, said he trusts his son, though he worries more about the other drivers around Graham's No. 15 Honda. Because the cars are so much safer than they were when he retired 16 years ago, Rahal said he doesn't get too anxious watching Graham race, even at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"I think he might be lying to you," Graham said. "He must get a little nervous."

Graham was 9 when his dad retired, so he only remembers being scared once, when his dad's car slid upside down and into the wall at Japan in 1998.

The rest of the time, Graham was excited to shadow his father, picking up tidbits here and there that have helped him in his own career.

The positives of living in a racing family outweighed the negatives — a feeling echoed in NASCAR garages.

"I thought it was the coolest thing ever honestly," said Chase Elliott, 18, a two-time Nationwide series winner and the son of 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Bill Elliott. "Watching your dad race and getting together at races every weekend was a dream come true."

Ryan Blaney loved spending time around NASCAR as a boy with his dad, journeyman driver Dave Blaney. But his father didn't have the stability of Elliott or Rahal. He spent more time on smaller circuits and racing more dangerous sprint cars where accidents can be catastrophic.

"I used to get nervous all the time before he'd go out there and race," said Ryan, 20, who made his Sprint Cup debut this month at Kansas. "Honestly, I still do."

Dave Blaney said the thought of danger rarely enters his mind when he watches his son race.

The longtime Sprint Cup veteran said he always tries to look over the cars his son races, making sure they're safe. After that, he trusts the equipment and Ryan.

"Freak accidents happen on the highway every day, let alone at the track," Blaney said. "You try to do all you can do. That's all."

In two decades, Ryan Hunter-Reay might find himself in a similar position. He put his 1-year-old son, Ryden, in a Dodge Viper at Daytona during the offseason. Ryden loved it.

Hunter-Reay has seen the highs of racing — 12 open-wheel wins and the 2012 IndyCar championship. He also has seen the lows, from business problems to fatal crashes. He hopes his son never has to see them.

"Hopefully," Hunter-Reay said, "he'll swing a golf club really well."

Matt Baker can be reached at mbaker@tampabay.com or on Twitter @MBakerTBTimes.

Super Sunday

Indianapolis 500, noon, 500 miles (200 laps), Indianapolis Motor Speedway TV/radio: Ch. 28; 1250-AM Weather: Sunny, 77 degrees, no chance of rain

Coca-Cola 600, 6 p.m., 600 miles (400 laps), Charlotte Motor Speedway, Concord, N.C. TV/radio: Ch. 13; 102.5-FM Weather: Partly cloudy, 79 degrees, 10 percent chance of rain

Inside

Gordon questionable: Jeff Gordon leaves practice with back spasms that endanger his streak of never missing a race. 3C

Today's lineups: Look for Kurt Busch — twice. 3C

Racing families keep pedal to metal, eye on safety 05/23/14 [Last modified: Saturday, May 24, 2014 11:11pm]
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