INDIANAPOLIS – When Graham Rahal isn’t racing, his favorite subject is Ohio State football. The NTT IndyCar Series driver was born in Columbus, Ohio, and raised in nearby New Albany.

Rahal had already accepted the fact there wouldn’t be fans at this year’s 104th Indianapolis 500 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But when a decision was made this past Tuesday by the BIG 10 Conference to cancel all fall sports, including football, he didn’t hold back on his thoughts.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat it, I’m pissed off,” Rahal told SPEED SPORT. “I think the players weren’t thought about. I think the coaches and the schools weren’t thought about. They could do the same format as other sports. They don’t need to have fans there. They just don’t. These guys being on campus, tested all the time and being watched so closely, it’s a safer environment than anything else they can do.

“I don’t agree with it. I don’t get it.”

Rahal may live in Indianapolis and California with his wife, Courtney Force, who will give birth to the couple’s first child this fall, but Ohio is always his home.

“I’m extremely proud to be from Ohio,” Rahal said. “It means a lot to me. I always tell people when you are from Ohio, nothing was ever given, it has to be earned. That is the way it was for a lot of people that I grew up with. In other sports, it’s in the mentality of the state, people take a lot of pride in the work that they do and take a lot of pride in their achievements.

“I hope we can do something special for them.”

Rahal is also an avid National Hockey League fan and has made friendships with players throughout the NHL, including the Columbus Blue Jackets and the St. Louis Blues.

The NHL season has resumed with teams playing “in a bubble” with the Eastern Conference in Toronto and the Western Conference in Edmonton, Alberta. The players are isolated from the general public and the games are played without spectators.

So far, there have been no positive COVID-19 results since the NHL resumed two weekends ago.

A little over one week ago, Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske made the difficult decision to stage this year’s race without spectators. Prior to that, IMS officials were anticipating 25 percent capacity – around 80,000 spectators at the mammoth facility with strict social distancing measures in place.

That has created a rather surreal atmosphere at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway leading into this weekend’s qualifications and next week’s race.

“I talked to some of my buddies in the NHL, what do they think of no crowd? They say, when they are playing you don’t even notice,” Rahal continued. “It’s the truth. When you are in the car in the race, you won’t notice but everything else, we do.

“You go to some races that don’t have the atmosphere or the fans that live for it, live for this every year. But we need this thing to happen. There is no choice. Our sponsors rely on an Indy 500 every year. That’s just the way it is.”

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