Rahal Sets Sights on Another Homecoming Win in Hectic Week at Mid-Ohio

Watching Verizon IndyCar Series driver James Hinchcliffe enjoy racing in his home city of Toronto two weeks ago only made Graham Rahal want his long-awaited trip to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course to arrive even quicker.

The 29-year-old from suburban Columbus, Ohio couldn’t disguise his impatience for the Honda Indy 200 race weekend to arrive as he spoke about finally having his home track be next up on the schedule.

“I'm excited to go back to Mid-Ohio and I am every year,” said Rahal who will be behind the wheel of the No. 15 Fifth Third Bank Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in his home race. Practice begins today on the 2.258-mile permanent road course. The race airs live at 3 p.m. ET Sunday on CNBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network, with an encore telecast at 6:30 p.m. on NBCSN.

“No other track will ever compare to Mid-Ohio for me just because that track in so many ways developed my love for this sport. I am thrilled to go back. We have this saying in Ohio – ‘Ohio against the world’ – and I guess I've kind of taken that and I think about it a lot. At Mid-Ohio, it all comes to a head because it's my time to be at home with the fans and live it up a little bit.”

Rahal admitted that his schedule is busier on Mid-Ohio week than anywhere else, with team and charitable commitments – not to mention friends and family who deserve their share of time.

“It's full on. There are more requests than I can actually fit into a day,” said Graham, who has about 60 friends attending the race.

“It's a busy, busy, busy weekend. In one way it angers you because you just want a little time for yourself, but the other side you have to look at is that someday nobody is going to care, so you have to take it all in and enjoy it and make the most of it.”

Despite the crazy schedule, Rahal does get some personal time. Every year, he squeezes in a round of golf on Thursday morning with some of his National Hockey League buddies who hail from Ohio or play for the Columbus Blue Jackets. It's become a tradition on Mid-Ohio weekend.

Golfing with hockey players isn't the only way Rahal stays connected to his home state. A look at his Twitter feed makes certain two key things about Rahal: He's one of the most passionate promoters of the Verizon IndyCar Series and he's an Ohio boy through and through.

“I'm proud to be American and I'm very proud to be from Ohio,” he said.

“People from Ohio take a lot of pride in where they are from and take a lot of pride in the work they put in to day-to-day life. I don't see that in other states. I think the culture in Ohio is that you work for absolutely everything that you earn. Nothing is given to you.”

Rahal isn't the only one who benefits from the trip to Mid-Ohio. Many of the team’s crew camp at the circuit with families. Bobby Rahal, Graham’s father and the team co-owner, acts as celebrity chef for team cookouts.

“Mid-Ohio with the camping and the family atmosphere and everything else is what we all live for. For me, I can't wait for the day that my wife gets to come and see what it's all about,” said Graham Rahal, who is married to successful drag racer Courtney Force.

“The team feels the same vibe as me and my dad do. It's a great team bonding weekend, and if we can go out and win like we did a few years ago, it only gets better. And we should be pretty strong in Mid-Ohio.”

To the delight of the home fans, Rahal won at Mid-Ohio. He still smiles when thinking about it and would like nothing better than a repeat performance.

“The greatest accomplishment in my life was winning there and getting to do donuts in the esses,” he said. “I still look back at those pictures and the entire crowd is on their feet going crazy. It was a huge moment for me.”

Two practices are on tap on Friday, starting at 11 a.m. and 2:35 p.m. ET. A third practice begins at 10 a.m. Saturday. All three sessions stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com, youtube.com/indycar and the INDYCAR Mobile app.

Verizon P1 Award qualifying airs live at 1:30 p.m. Saturday on NBCSN. Live coverage of the 90-lap race commences at 3 p.m. Sunday on CNBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network, with a same-day encore presentation at 6:30 p.m. on NBCSN.