In April 2014 I had the opportunity to speak with NHRA champ and drag racing school founder Frank Hawley about his school and his start in racing – just across the border in southern Ontario. Take a look back at a few pieces from this interview, and look for other driver interviews, in the future.

Two-time NHRA Funny Car champ Frank Hawley founded his drag racing school in 1985, and wasn’t sure if there would be a demand for the product. As such, he admits to beginning it a little bit backwards.

“We did it backwards – you think you would start with smaller cars that go faster, but we started with Top Alcohol Funny Cars and dragsters, which are not very good beginner cars at all,” said Hawley. “I guess I underestimated the amount of skill it would take to drive those things, but we had a lot of people come down and drive the cars the first few years. As we moved along we kept building cars that would be more affordable for folks and a little bit easier to drive, and more like the types of vehicles that our customers would end up competing in – that led to our program that we are running this year, our Dragster Adventure program. Over the years, we become a little bit more affordable and broad-based to appeal to customers.”

Hawley’s school offers both adventure programs and licensing courses for interested individuals, including Super Comp/Super Gas licensing.

“Our Super Comp/Super Gas program, which has been our featured program for many years, you get your competition license for a 7.5-second car – it’s a unique course,” said Hawley. “The curriculum, although it is modified and adjusted through the years, is the same curriculum – if someone takes a Frank Hawley course at Gateway and recommends their friend takes it next spring in Florida after the GatorNationals, that person is going to get the same classroom, same instruction, same cars. Our programs depend on what type of vehicle, what type of program you’re taking.”

“Our Dragster Adventure program, which is our most affordable course right now, that’s a half-day course, it doesn’t get your license, the car is a 10-second, 130 mph dragster, and it’s really exciting to drive,” continued Hawley. “If somebody takes that program and wants to stick around and make it a full day, we give people the opportunity to do some side-by-side competition in the afternoon.”

Upcoming Dragster Adventure programs include May 3rd in St. Louis, May 23rd in Gainesville, Florida and June 13th in Fontana, California. Super Comp/Super Gas licensing courses are available May 5th and 6th in St. Louis, June 11th and 12th in Fontana and June 24th and 25th in Gainesville.

Find out more about the programs at frankhawley.com.

Coming up: the most satisfying thing Hawley has done.

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In April 2014 I had the opportunity to speak with NHRA champ and drag racing school founder Frank Hawley about his school and his start in racing – just across the border in southern Ontario. Take a look back at a few pieces from this interview, and look for other driver interviews, in the future.

Frank Hawley’s love of fast cars is a direct result of having four older sisters – or, at least, from their boyfriends.

“I had four older sisters – this was back in the muscle car era – and all of them had boyfriends and they had lots of fast cars and they used to come around the house,” said Hawley in a recent interview. “That’s how I got interested in fast and powerful cars. One of them was actually the first one to take me to a drag race when I was 9 years old and I saw a couple Top Fuel cars run and thought ‘that’s absolutely fabulous.’ Unlike some folks, at a very young age I think I knew what I wanted to do.”

Hawley took that love of fast cars and went drag racing in Southern Ontario, visiting tracks like St. Thomas Raceway Park, Cayuga Dragway and Grand Bend Dragway, and later travelling into Michigan, New York and Ohio for races. Hawley eventually found himself racing in the NHRA, where he won the Funny Car championship in 1982 and 1983, and became one of just 14 drivers to win in both Nitro categories, Funny Car and Top Fuel.

In 1985, while still racing competitively, Hawley came up with the idea for a drag racing school.

“I went to a road racing school, learned how to drive some Formula Fords and thought, ‘Wow, that was very cool, that’s a great program,’” said Hawley. “At the time, that was about all you could drive was road race stuff, and I wondered if anybody would be interested in learning to drag race properly with good equipment, so we got a few investors together and some equipment and made a deal with the NHRA to use the track in Gainesville, Florida.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

Coming up: the beginnings of Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School and the most satisfying thing Hawley has done.

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In April 2014 I had the opportunity to speak with NHRA champ and drag racing school founder Frank Hawley about his school and his start in racing – just across the border in southern Ontario. Take a look back at a few pieces from this interview, and look for other driver interviews, in the future.

Two-time NHRA Funny Car champ Frank Hawley grew up in the muscle car era, and has his four older sisters to thank for his love of fast cars and drag racing.

“I had four older sisters – this was back in the muscle car era – and all of them had boyfriends and they had lots of fast cars and they used to come around the house,” said Hawley. “That’s how I got interested in fast and powerful cars. One of them was actually the first one to take me to a drag race when I was 9 years old and I saw a couple Top Fuel cars run and thought ‘that’s absolutely fabulous.’ Unlike some folks, at a very young age I think I knew what I wanted to do.”

The London, Ontario native took his love of fast cars and went drag racing in Southern Ontario, visiting tracks like St. Thomas Raceway Park, Cayuga Dragway and Grand Bend Dragway, and later travelling into Michigan, New York and Ohio for races. Hawley eventually found himself racing in the NHRA, where he won the Funny Car championship in 1982 and 1983, and became one of just 14 drivers to win in both Nitro categories, Funny Car and Top Fuel.

In 1985, Hawley founded his drag racing school in Gainesville, Florida after checking out a road racing school. “I went to a road racing school, learned how to drive some Formula Fords and thought, ‘Wow, that was very cool, that’s a great program,’ said Hawley. “At the time, that was about all you could drive was road race stuff, and I wondered if anybody would be interested in learning to drag race properly with good equipment, so we got a few investors together and some equipment and made a deal with the NHRA to use the track in Gainesville, Florida.”

Nearly 30 years later, the school is offering licensing courses and Dragster Adventure programs at seven different strips around the country, including Norwalk, Ohio’s Summit Motorsports Park and Reading, Pennsylvania’s Maple Grove Raceway. The Super Comp/Super Gas licensing course is being offered in Norwalk on July 21st and 22nd, and in Reading on September 3rd and 4th; Dragster Adventures at the tracks take place July 24th (Norwalk) and September 5th (Reading).

Learn more about the course and Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School at frankhawley.com.

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credit: IndyCar Media/Bret Kelley

Rahal was a championship contender in 2015 – credit: IndyCar Media/Bret Kelley

In September 2013, I had the opportunity to speak with second-generation IndyCar star Graham Rahal of Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing. Take a look back at a few pieces from this interview, and look for other driver interviews, in the future.

Already an IndyCar veteran at age 24, second-generation driver Graham Rahal has driven for some of the top names in auto racing: the late Paul Newman, Sarah Fisher, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Chip Ganassi and his current team, Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing – his father, 1986 Indy 500 champ Bobby Rahal, late-night television star David Letterman and long-time team owner Mike Lanigan. In spite of racing for numerous other teams, the younger Rahal always had a feeling he’d end up driving for his father.

“All along, he and I both felt that at some point that would happen,” said Rahal in a recent  interview, “but we were both always adamant that I would go out, particularly early in my career, and make my own name to a certain extent, so that’s what I’ve worked on doing up to this point.”

Rahal has been able to make a name for himself since 2007, his rookie season in CART, when he had a runner-up finish and three third-place finishes over 14 races. The following season, he went out and won in his first career IndyCar start at St. Petersburg, becoming the youngest winner in the series history (19 years, 93 days). Rahal got his start where many of today’s drivers – in many racing series – get their start.

“I started when I was 10 years old and I started in go-karting, and go-karting is kind of where, traditionally, everyone nowadays is going to start,” explained Rahal. “It’s the easiest, cheapest – it’s a sport where a lot of people have access to tracks regionally, so it’s pretty common. My goal has always been to race in IndyCar. I stayed on the Formula car path for all my life, and that’s what I’ve always committed myself to doing. From go-karts I came up through what we call the “feeder series” and made my way up.”

Rahal, his four sisters and brother grew up around the sport – his brother works for RLR but has never driven – but there was never pressure from his three-time championship-winning father to get into the business.

“If anything, it was probably the opposite,” remembers Rahal of growing up. “I think that’s one of the biggest concerns for any son or daughter, growing up and being forced by a parent to do something. I was very fortunate with my family that that was never the case. But it was always my desire to do this, and I’m very fortunate that up to this point it’s worked out.”

Something that Rahal has become very active in, particularly after the 2010 season, which saw him race for four separate teams on a part-time basis, is finding sponsorship and doing whatever he can for those sponsors, which today include Midas, Big O Tires and blu eCigs.

“You want to be out there racing full-time, so when something like that happens and you’re not, it’s difficult to understand why, particularly at the age I was,” said Rahal. “However, I think I took it in stride a little bit, in the sense that it wasn’t ideal, but there’s only one way to get myself back on the right path, and was to go out and take action, and find sponsors and do the best that I could and I think that we’ve done that, and particularly on the sponsorship front, since that time, I’ve been very active, very involved in sponsorship and it’s served me quite well. Everybody has to take that lesson and go through that, and it’s not an easy thing to accept, but it’s very fortunate that it has worked out.”

Heading to the next race, the Grand Prix of Houston double-header on October 5 and 6, Rahal has some confidence – he has a second-place finish there in CART in 2007 (he skipped his prom to compete there).

“I would say right now, my favorite (type of race) is the street courses, because that’s what our team has excelled at recently – races like Houston,” said Rahal. “Houston is one of those races where I feel I can really do a great job.”

Currently 18th in points with three races remaining (the double-header at Houston and the finale at Auto Club Speedway in California), Rahal has no intentions of jumping ship to another series anytime soon – he’s perfectly happy as an IndyCar driver.

“I love IndyCar racing – a lot of people have asked me if I have interest in doing other things, maybe going to NASCAR,” said Rahal. “Truth is, I love it right where I’m at – I’d like to be one of the influential guys who helps this sport grow, so that’s my focus.”

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Graham Rahal Sonoma 8-2015 IndyCar Media Shawn Gritzmacher

credit: IndyCar Media/Shawn Gritzmacher

In September 2013, I had the opportunity to speak with second-generation IndyCar star Graham Rahal of Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing. Take a look back at a few pieces from this interview, and look for other driver interviews, in the future.

The IZOD IndyCar Series recently announced the addition of a second May race at the mecca of auto racing, Indianapolis Motor Speedway – this one on the road course. The combination of oval and road and street courses on the series schedule is one of the things Graham Rahal likes about the series.

“(Switching from ovals to road courses) is undoubtedly a big challenge,” said Rahal. “But I think that’s what makes our series special. I just think that overall that’s what makes our series stand out from everything else in the world to a certain extent. It’s probably harder on the teams, though, than the drivers – they have to swap the cars out.”

The 2013 schedule had 19 races, including three double-header weekends – a concept Rahal likes for the fans.

“I think it’s a good concept, it works well,” said Rahal. “I think it’s fun, and I think IndyCar is a sport in which it’s extremely fan-friendly, and the best part is it’s good for the fans, period. The fans get to see more racing on a weekend – when they spend that money they get to see twice the amount of racing, and that’s really what you want. It keeps them coming back, and that’s what you want to do.”

Rahal would like to see a more balanced schedule in the future – something without so many gaps in the action – and wouldn’t mind seeing a few more races.

“I’d like to see more – I like racing, and it’s good for our sport to be out in the public eye more, and more often,” said Rahal. “This last lull in the action – to fans, they almost think that your season is over because you go quiet for several weeks. So I’d like to keep that a little more active, frankly, but it has served us well, being at 18 or 20 (races).”

“If we gain a few races that doesn’t scare me,” continued Rahal. “I think it would be smart for the series to be over by now. I think it would be good to just have all the racing finished – even NASCAR, to get TV ratings at this time of year is difficult with the NFL, so it would kind of be good for our sport to get it over with before now. We need to make our schedule a little more consistent and make it easier for everybody to follow.”

A fan-friendly driver in a fan-friendly sport, Rahal has modeled his Graham Rahal Foundation after Paul Newman’s Newman’s Own Foundation. The Foundation works with Alex’s Lemonade Stand and the Serious Fun Network (formerly Newman’s Hole in the Wall Camps) and raises funds through a number of events.

“We did our helmet design contest,” said Rahal – the helmet will be worn at the IndyCar finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California on October 19th. “It gives fans a chance to design my helmet for the season finale. It’s an enjoyable thing for everyone to take part in, it’s a challenge for them and ultimately it helps support the kids we support. Hopefully we can sell it off, make some good money and help some lives. This is our third (helmet design contest), but we also do other stuff that we auction off, we have a golf tournament that’s probably our biggest fundraiser of the year.”

Rahal enjoys the fan interaction, and it’s a big reason he plans to stay in IndyCar for a long time to come.

“I love IndyCar racing,” stated Rahal. “A lot of people have asked me if I have interest in doing other things, maybe going to NASCAR. Truth is, I love it right where I’m at – I’d like to be one of the influential guys who helps this sport grow, so that’s my focus.”

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