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For Rahal, dramatic Indy win helped repay friend's confidence

By Larry EdsallSpecial to the Christian Science Monitor / June 3, 1986



Indianapolis

Bobby Rahal claims emotion is the enemy of a race car driver. ``The more emotion you feel, the less consistent you become,'' he said. But that was before he won the Indianapolis 500. Afterward, he admitted he had become so emotional as he approached the finish line that he didn't even see the checkered flag wave to signal his victory. ``I saw the white flag [indicating one lap to go],'' he said.

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``On the last lap, I didn't see the checkered flag. I was looking at the crew and I saw them going crazy.

``Every emotion runs through you and over you and it's just a great day.''

Although he may not have been among the pre-race favorites to win the 70th running of the Indy 500, which was postponed for nearly a week after rain marred the Memorial Day weekend, Rahal was certainly one of the sentimental choices to reach Victory Lane.

Jim Trueman, Rahal's close friend and car owner, has been ill. ``I owe a lot to Jim Trueman because he's the guy who brought me to the dance,'' said Rahal, who qualified fourth in the 33-car field.

``When I was looking for an Indy car ride, it was a classic case of `don't call us, we'll call you.' Jim took a gamble on me, and I think you owe people like that.''

Although they'd known each other since 1973, when both were racing in sports car events in central Ohio, Rahal and Trueman didn't enter Indy car racing together until 1982. Rahal was a history major at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, while Trueman was starting his Red Roof Inn motel chain, which has become the largest privately owned operation of its kind in the United States. ``In those days, both of us were competing in amateur racing on the weekends,'' Rahal recalled.

``I didn't know Jim very well then, but you know how it is in racing. You say hello to somebody in the garage area one day and the next day you're sitting on the pit wall with him, talking for hours.''

A year later, Rahal needed $500 so he could compete in a race at Watkins Glen, N.Y. ``He never hesitated,'' Rahal said of Trueman.

``The $500 he gave me was $500 more than anyone else had ever invested in me, and I've never forgotten him for it.''

Few of the hundreds of thousands who saw the race here or the millions who watched on the first live telecast of the ``greatest spectacle in racing'' will forget the way Rahal won the race in Trueman's March-Cosworth car.

Tom Sneva's crash on the pace lap delayed the start for more than half an hour; then another big name, Mario Andretti, was sidelined with electrical problems. Andretti's son Michael dominated early, leading the first 42 laps.

But twice Michael entered the pits under green flag (racing) conditions, only to have the yellow (caution) flag fly as soon as he returned to the track.

That meant other drivers could pit without losing their positions, leaving young Andretti at the back of the lead lap. Leading most of those laps was pole sitter and pre-race favorite Rick Mears, who led 77 of the 200 laps.

``I think Rick and I ran together pretty much the whole race,'' Rahal said after he and Mears were the only drivers listed among the top five in each of the 10-lap rundowns throughout the entire race. Rahal led 58 laps, including the last two.

For the last half of the race, the top three names on those leader lists -- though in various order -- were Mears, Rahal, and Kevin Cogan, the young driver who'd became famous, actually infamous, for crashing into A. J. Foyt and Mario Andretti at the start of the race in 1982. While Mears and Rahal established themselves as two of the top drivers in the sport, Cogan went from team to team, seemingly going in reverse until he signed with Patrick Racing for 1986 after two-time Indy winner Gordon Johncock's retirement. Cogan won the season-opening race at Phoenix, Ariz., and was among the fastest all month at Indianapolis.

With fewer than 15 laps left, Mears was leading but came up behind a slower car. Rahal went around Mears, but Cogan went around all three cars in a dramatic move to take the lead. With five laps left, Arie Luyendyk crashed, necessitating another caution period.

By the time the debris was removed, there would be only two laps of racing before the checkered flag. Rahal shot around Cogan at the restart and beat him to the finish line by only 1.4 seconds, the second-closest finish in Indy history. ``It went green and he got the jump on me and that was pretty much the end of the race,'' Cogan said. ``I put the foot down pretty hard, but he must have anticipated it better.''

Mears, the winner here in 1979 and '84, was only 1.8 seconds behind, making him the closest third-place finisher in the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race itself also was the fastest Indy 500, for the first time taking less than three hours to complete.

Rahal's time was 2:55:43.48 and he averaged a record 170.772 m.p.h. Rahal and Cogan completed the final lap at 207 m.p.h. and Rahal needed such speeds throughout the race, since he spent a total of 4 minutes, 26 seconds in the pits, 9 more seconds than Cogan and 34 more seconds than Mears. The victory was Rahal's ninth in five years in Indy car competition, but his first at the famous ``brickyard.'' He was rookie of the year and runner-up to Mears for the national championship in 1982 and has been third in the final drivers' standings the last two seasons.