Aug 31 Feeling the Need for Speed

By Amy Rosewater | Aug. 31, 2012, 6 p.m. (ET)
Bobby Rahal announcement 
 (L-R) USBSF CEO Darrin Steele,
Bobby Rahal, and 2010 Olympic gold
medalist Curt Tomasevicz

BALTIMORE – It takes quite a bit to impress an Indianapolis 500 winner, but Bobby Rahal had to admit he was just a “mere mortal,” when it came to being around Olympic gold medalists.

So when he was asked to be the chairman of the USA Bobsled & Skeleton Foundation, he said, “I was really taken aback.”

It didn’t take him too long to say yes.

Rahal, who was in Baltimore for the city’s Grand Prix IndyCar race this weekend, made the move official during a news conference Friday as he was flanked by U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation CEO Darrin Steele and 2010 Olympic gold medalist Curt Tomasevicz. Steele initiated the foundation more than two years ago and got connected with Rahal through BMW, which is a sponsor of both the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation and for Rahal’s auto racing team.

The USABSF will operate as a separate non-profit organization to support USA Bobsled & Skeleton programs, and the goal is for the foundation to support technological advancements, youth programs, athlete career transition and direct athlete support. The program should boost the sport, which lost a huge supporter in another race-car driver, NASCAR’s Geoff Bodine, in April 2011, when Bodine terminated his agreement with USBSF after nearly 20 years. Bodine had helped create the Bo-Dyn Project in 1992 after seeing the American teams use foreign-made sleds.

Rahal is a racer at heart, but also a successful businessman. Not only does he own a race team, but he also owns car dealerships and has been in top power positions in Formula One racing and other racing circuits. His team co-owners include late-night TV host David Letterman and Michael Lanigan, a longtime racing team owner.

“I had been looking hard for the right person for about three years,” Steele said. “I didn’t want to settle with the wrong person. I met him and I met his team and he’s a pretty impressive guy. He gets the business side and the relationship side.

“We speak the same language,” Steele added later. “They get this obsession with speed and with winning.”

In addition to winning the Indy 500 crown in 1986, Rahal also won three series titles, the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring.

But as for an Olympic gold medal … well, that’s a whole other world, Rahal said.

“Just being around Olympians is exciting,” said Rahal, who was introduced to Steele at a race in Sebring, Fla., in March 2011.

Rahal said his first memory of watching the Olympic Games was in 1964, when two U.S. skiers (William ‘Billy’ Kidd and James Heuga) placed second and third in the slalom in Innsbruck.

“I love the Olympics, and I find the competition tremendously compelling,” Rahal said. I love seeing American racing against the best the world can offer. I want to help so guys like Curt can excel and continue to excel.”

Tomasevicz, who along with Steve Holcomb, Justin Olsen and Steve Mesler, ended a 62-year drought in the four-man bobsled event by winning the gold medal at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, was equally impressed by Rahal and the high-tech world of IndyCar racing.

“Technology is very important,” Tomasevicz said and then he added with a laugh, “I’d like to say the push is the most important part, but you need the technology.”

Before the news conference began, Rahal was quizzing Steele about how many G-forces the bobsleds can reach (the answer: about 4 to 5). Rahal, who yesterday got his first up-close look at a bobsled (albeit a display version of the Night Train), marveled at the design.

Steele and Tomasevicz are both eager to give Rahal a ride, and Rahal, who spent most of his life on high-speed race tracks, seems enthusiastic about the idea.

Rahal, who is pretty accustomed to taking control of the wheel, admitted he is not quite ready to drive a bobsled down an icy track.

“This,” he said as he pointed to the bobsled, “someone else can drive.”

As for Rahal’s auto racing cars, they will sport the U.S. bobsled colors for this weekend in Baltimore and in the season finale Sept. 15 in Fontana, Calif.

The auto racing season comes to a close just about the time when the bobsled season begins. Tomasevicz, who spends March through September at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, will relocate to Lake Placid, N.Y., once the season starts. The World Cup opener is Nov. 8-10 in Lake Placid, followed by a second World Cup on U.S. soil in Park City, Utah, Nov. 16-18.

The Night Train team, now with Tomasevicz, Holcomb, Olsen and Steve Langton, won the 2012 World Championship. The U.S. team has collected nine medals over the last three Olympic Winter Games.

Steele has been to auto races prior to this weekend’s Grand Prix, having seen drag races, NASCAR and open-wheel races. Tomasevicz actually did a pit crew tryout once in Charlotte.

“That’s how much I’ve become a fan,” Tomasevicz said.

But don’t expect Tomasevicz to trade his bobsled for wheels yet.

When someone asked about the next Winter Games, set for Sochi, Russia, in 2014, Tomasevicz smiled and said, “524 days”.

As if he’s counting.

Amy Rosewater is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.

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