It’s not how he envisioned it, but Graham Rahal will be driving in the 107th Indy 500 after all.
Rahal will fill in for Stefan Wilson in the No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet after the British driver suffered a fractured vertebra in a crash during Monday’s practice session.
“I don’t feel good filling in for an injured driver,” Rahal told the Indianapolis Star. “Unfortunately, in racing, things happen. But [given my relationship with the Wilsons] I felt like it was my calling to come help.
“I wouldn’t come here if I didn’t think we could win.”
Trackside emergency personnel took nearly 10 minutes to carefully extricate Wilson from his car after it smashed into the outside wall following contact from Katherine Legge. Wilson was able to give a quick thumbs up before being taken to the infield care center and later to a local hospital. He was said to be alert, communicative and in good spirits throughout his initial evaluation.
Rahal will be making his 16th start in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” — the sixth-highest total among active drivers. Rahal was dramatically bumped from the field by Rahal Letterman Lanigan teammate Jack Harvey in a desperate last-gasp qualifying run as the session concluded Sunday afternoon.
Monday, minutes before the Legge-Wilson crash, the NBC broadcast team asked Rahal if he would attempt to buy a seat for the race, which there is precedent for. Rahal was adamant that it is not in his nature.
“At Indy, you’ve got to earn it, and we didn’t earn it. I don’t believe in that,” Rahal said. “I’m not meant to be in this race. I’m not a super religious person, but I’m a firm believer that everything in life happens for a reason, and the 2023 Indy 500 was not in my cards.”
Wilson had qualified his car 25th in the 33-car field but due to IndyCar rules, Rahal will start the race at the back of the grid and those who qualified 26th-33rd move up one spot. Rahal has led 28 laps in the Indy 500 and has three top fives, the most recent coming in 2020 when he finished third.