NHL.com's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.
The latest edition features NTT Data IndyCar Series driver Graham Rahal:
If you need a good example of the magnetic capability of the NHL, look no further than Columbus, Ohio, native and second-generation NTT Data IndyCar Series driver Graham Rahal. Born into a racing family with no background in hockey, Rahal has befriended players throughout the League, hosting many of them at IndyCar races throughout this and previous seasons.
During his 10-year IndyCar career, the 30-year old who drives the No. 15 RLL Racing Honda has won six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship. Although his beloved Columbus Blue Jackets have produced mixed results, Rahal is hopeful that their success in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs will serve as a catalyst for their future.
NHL.com caught up with Rahal to discuss hockey and his sport and the connections that run through each. Here are five questions with Rahal, who finished 12th in the Grand Prix at Laguna Seca on Sunday in the final race of the 2019 IndyCar season.
Here are Five Questions with … Graham Rahal:
You were born in Columbus, Ohio, before the Blue Jackets arrived. Did you become a hockey fan because of them, or did it start before?
"Really because of them. In fact, the first year I really didn't get into it that much. And then a friend of mine in school had seats right on the boards. I went down there, and I'll never forget: the first big check went right through my knees, because, of course, I've got my knees on the boards and I'm not really thinking about it. And from that moment on I was pretty well hooked."
Through the years you've become friends with several NHL players, including 2019 Stanley Cup champions Colton Parayko and Alex Pietrangelo of the St. Louis Blues. What were your emotions like when you saw them lift the trophy?
"I've gotten really close to Colton. We talk a few times a week, so for me, if the Jackets couldn't do it, it was a lot of excitement to see (Colton and Alex) do it, particularly having talked to them in January (when the Blues were in last place) and then all of a sudden you see this ... I mean, it's a legendary sports story. I was disappointed because before Colton got to pick it up they went to commercial break. I didn't even see him lift it. But it's still awesome."
You're an avid golfer. If you could pick three current or former NHL players to play with, who would they be and why?
"I'd like to play with [Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney] Crosby because he's just an animal. I saw a photo of him golfing the other day and, my God, his quads are bigger than my entire body, which is nuts. But I'd like to someday meet him, and it'd be fun to play with him. [Hockey Hall of Fame member Wayne] Gretzky would be pretty awesome. I've played with [former Columbus defenseman] James Wisniewski a lot, and he's a great golfer. I mean great golfer. You know Wiz would always be a good time, for sure."
IndyCar has been gaining momentum, with TV ratings on the rise and strong attendance at most tracks. What's your take on the future of the series?
"I see IndyCar a lot like how I saw the NHL when it was coming out of the (2004-05) lockout. At that time, it wasn't really gaining a lot of momentum. And then, all of a sudden, over the last seven, eight, nine years there's been a lot of growth in the NHL. And to me, it's the same with us. We were at a point that we had the [CART/IRL] split, then we came back from that and kind of floundered around. But now, here we are with a great TV partner in NBC, and everything is seemingly headed down the right path. IndyCar seems to be the motorsport that is rising right now. We just need to keep on going down that path, connecting to the fans and putting on good shows."
Your father Bobby Rahal won the 1986 Indianapolis 500. Let's say you follow in his footsteps and claim victory at the Brickyard. Can your Indy 500 celebration equal or better a Stanley Cup party?
"I've been around a lot of hockey players; they are a different breed, I'll say that! I think it'd be close though, I really do. The difficulty (for an Indy 500 winner) is the next morning you have to be at the track at 5 for photos. Most of the time when we go out after the Indy 500 the winner never comes because they've got to wake up and do the pictures, then go on a four-day media tour. Then show up to Detroit the next weekend just in time to go racing. You don't get the whole summer, like the Blues' Stanley Cup celebrations going on for months. That's certainly not going to happen in IndyCar racing."
Main photo courtesy of Honda