For Rahal, substituting for Wilson at Indy 500 “just felt right”

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Photo credit: Penske Entertainment | James Black

The shock announcement on Monday that Stefan Wilson would miss the Indy 500 set in motion an almost equal but oppositely shocking announcement Tuesday that his replacement in the #24 Dreyer and Reinbold/Cusick Motorsports car would be Graham Rahal, who was last seen getting bumped out of the field on Sunday.

The move required the cooperation of both friends and rivals along the IndyCar paddock. At the press conference, co-owner Dennis Reinbold emphasized the kind of community within the larger world of Indycar that allowed this to happen.

“A lot of things what I want to touch on is just how much the IndyCar community really, in a situation like this, rallies around each other and all the help that we got from everyone in the paddock and elsewhere.[…] It just goes all the way through the paddock, and it’s really a touching feeling that so many competitors can come together and work together.”

The emergency situation brings reunites Reinbold and Rahal, who drove for Dreyer and Reinbold in 2010 in a one-off at Iowa, and strengthens Rahal’s ties with the Wilson family, going back to when he was teammates with the late Justin Wilson early in his career.

“If it were not for him, I probably would have kept chasing a different dream. In many ways, he did help me, but I do know as a teammate, too, when I was with him at Newman/Haas and then again with Dennis at Iowa, he’s just a tremendous, tremendous guy, and Stef is right there with him.

“Their entire family I have the utmost respect for, and in a scenario like this[…] had it been something different, I don’t know how compelled I would have been, particularly with the storylines of the last couple days.

“In this circumstance with Dennis, with Don, with Gary, with Stef, it just felt right.”

This unusual move hinged on an agreement between rival manufacturers to allow Rahal, who hasn’t run a non-Honda Indycar since the Champ Car merger—Rahal admitted “literally I haven’t changed my steering wheel in 12 years”—to drive the Chevrolet-powered Dreyer and Reinbold car.

“The steering wheel is not one you can switch easy because the programming and the wiring and everything is pretty specific to the team. So we’ll sit in there and study as best we can, probably take a photo so that I can go home and look at the wheel and get the buttons memorized. All those things are going to be critical.”

Additionally, Reinbold noted that arrangements needed to be made with Rahal’s everyday sponsors, which was a team effort between Reinbold, Cusick, and Bobby Rahal.

“A lot of the concerns he had were with Graham’s sponsors, and we have some flexibility, and Bobby stepped in and really made it work out to where we could do different things and shift things around, and I worked with Don in that regard, as well.”

During the press conference Cusick provided an update on Wilson, and is hopeful their driver will be able to be at the Speedway with the rest of the team.

“Obviously he’s fairly crushed emotionally but supportive of what we’re doing here, and we can’t wait to get him better and get him back out here. He really appreciates all the outpouring and concern, and yeah, hopefully get him back here on Sunday and walk down the track with him.”