As seen in ChicagoMOD Vol 1.3
For racing superstar Bobby Rahal, cars have always been more than a way to get from point A to point B. The Indianapolis 500 is just the most famous of Rahal’s many victories, and he hasn’t slowed down since hanging up his uniform in 1998, parlaying his winnings into more than a dozen auto dealerships and two successful professional motorsports teams. Then there’s his stellar collection of 10 classic vehicles, housed in a pristine 10,000-square-foot “garage-mahal” at the Autobahn Country Club in Joliet.
“I could give you a different reason why each one is my favorite, but it’s like asking about my greatest win,” Rahal explains, although he admits to a certain fondness for Porsches. “Every one is special, so you hate to draw those kinds of comparisons.”
That’s especially true because each car is steeped in nostalgia. His red 1967 Porsche 911 S, for example, is a dead ringer for the 1966 model he drove in his first driver’s license test (he passed!). The orange 1972 BWM is a duplicate of the vehicle he had in college.
“I learned to race driving it in the hills of Ohio,” he says.
Today you might see Rahal cruising around town in his 1965 289 Shelby Cobra roadster, probably the most valuable car in his collection. It’s one of several convertibles he owns, along with a late ‘60s Alfa Romeo Duetto and a bright red Volkswagen Beetle that recalls the one he drove in high school.
“When you drive it, everybody smiles and gives you a thumbs-up,” Rahal enthuses, noting that his 21-window Volkswagen bus has the same effect. “When you drive a Ferrari, they just flip you off.”
By the time he was six, Rahal was already a car junkie, thanks to his father Mike Rahal, an amateur racer with a penchant for sports cars. After the races, Mike’s buddies would hang out at the house talking shop, and Bobby drank it up. “It was right out of American Graffiti,” he says.
Rahal was only 17 when he made his debut driving one of his dad’s cars in a novice competition. He continued to race through college, racking up an impressive list of wins. His rst pro race took place on the same weekend as his college graduation. Not surprisingly, he skipped the ceremony. “Graduation was the past and the race was the future,” Rahal notes.
And a successful one at that. Tall glass display cases showcase his many trophies, rings and other awards. The walls are lined with memorabilia, including framed racing uniforms and signed posters celebrating the greats. In the corner across from his desk is a custom 200-square-foot slot car racing track that resembles Rahal’s all-time favorite track in Elkhart Lake, Indiana in the ‘60s.
“We’d go there to watch the real pros, the best in the world,” Rahal explains. “To this day, the years from ‘65 to ‘72 or ‘73 are considered one of the great eras in motorsports, and I was right in the middle of it.”
Although he lives in Lincoln Park, Rahal often hangs out at the club. It’s a great place to get work done, he points out, and sometimes he invites his buddies over to sip on bourbon and BS about cars in the same way his dad and his friends did way back.
“What’s so cool and fun about car culture is it brings people of all stripes together, so you meet a lot of interesting people,” Rahal says. “The thing we all have in common is a passion for racing.” He has also donated the club space for charitable functions, most recently the Wounded Warrior Project.
When Rahal has imbibed too much, he will head upstairs and crash in his second-floor two-bedroom loft, which has a large great room with a chef’s kitchen and an expansive balcony overlooking one of the club’s two racetracks.
“If you have a racecar, you can come out here and put it through its paces,” he says, as a newer model whizzes by.
He doesn’t get out on the track much these days. The only vehicle that remains from his pro-racing days is a yellow Corvette pace convertible, a gift for winning the 1986 Indianapolis 500. Besides, just as his father did with him, Rahal has passed the baton to his 28-year-old son Graham, who is racking up a number of impressive wins of his own.
“He’s driving for my team now, and that’s pretty gratifying,” Rahal explains, pointing to a poster of his son on one wall and a photo of his dad in his vintage racecar on the other. “This place is all about family.”