Speed, tremendous skill, incredible bravery and high risk are ingredients that make NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers larger than life heroes. Those are the same skills possessed by the stars of the National Hockey League. If the NTT INDYCAR SERIES is the fastest sport on Earth, the NHL is the fastest sport on ice.
This weekend in St. Louis, the elite players of the NHL will be on display for the sport's 2020 All-Star Game at the Enterprise Center. NTT INDYCAR SERIES star Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing will be attending the festivities as a guest of Honda, one of INDYCAR's two engine partners.
From walking the red carpet to attending Friday night’s NHL Skills Competition to Saturday night’s NHL All-Star Game, it’s a dream weekend for Rahal, an avid hockey fan.
The second-generation Indy car driver is one of INDYCAR's most ardent NHL fans, a proud fan of the Columbus Blue Jackets and friends with several players on the 2019 Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues. Friday night, Rahal will do a memorabilia exchange with the Blue Jackets' Seth Jones on the red carpet (4 p.m. CT). Rahal will get a Blue Jackets' jersey; Jones will get a Rahal fire suit.
“I have a bunch of buddies that play in the NHL,” said Rahal, noting that fellow NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens, a pair of Canadians from suburban Toronto, are also big NHL fans. "We give each other crap when the Blue Jackets play the Maple Leafs."
Blues players Colton Parayko, Alex Pietrangelo and Ivan Barbashev came to the Indy car race in St. Louis last year, bringing the Stanley Cup with them (see insert). Parayko's Indy car interest dates to his childhood days in Alberta, when he would attend races in Edmonton. A few years ago, Pietrangelo and David Backes, now with the Boston Bruins, attended the Indianapolis 500.
Rahal, who has attended an NHL Winter Classic, said it will be fun to attend the All-Star Game in St. Louis since the series will race at nearby World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway on Saturday, August 22.
"It’s a great town with a lot of racing connections," he said of St. Louis.
Because Rahal splits his time between Indianapolis and California, he attends a couple Blue Jackets games a year in Columbus. A few weeks ago, when the Blue Jackets were playing the Ducks in Anaheim, Rahal attended the game and was interviewed by NBC Sports Network during a break in the action.
Because of his racing commitments, Rahal was not able to attend the NHL All-Star Game when it was held in Columbus in 2015. Thanks to Honda, Rahal’s hockey dreams will come true this weekend in St. Louis.
“Honda has always been great at including me, and I appreciate that,” Rahal said. “It’s a natural fit. If Hinch isn’t doing it, then I should be because it’s two guys that connect the most between INDYCAR and the NHL."
Rahal believes the skills competition uniquely showcases the tremendous ability of NHL players.
“The skills competition is what it’s all about,” he said. “To see the speed that these guys can hit a puck and some of the goalie maneuvers, (it) highlights how incredible these guys are as athletes. I don’t know how many people have ever tried to skate, but it’s damn hard. Now, try to skate and add in shooting a puck -- it's almost impossible. Now add in trying to avoid getting hit by a 210-pound guy coming at you -- it's even harder.
“These guys are tremendous athletes. How they do what they do is mesmerizing."
The skills competition airs on NBCSN at 7 p.m. ET Friday, with Rahal on the set for an interview at 7:12 p.m. The All-Star Game airs on NBC at 8 p.m. Saturday.
NBC and NBCSN will carry all 17 races of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES this season, beginning with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday, March 15.
“I think it’s a very natural fit and a great deal to have INDYCAR connected with the NHL,” Rahal said. “The common connection there is NBC, which has been great to all of us."