You probably know Bobby Rahal as a former Indy 500 champion, successful race team owner, and that he once sported a world-class mustache. But here's something you may not know: He owns perhaps the greatest man cave in the world (Jay Leno excluded).
As we arrive at an undisclosed racetrack, we're directed to a large gray building set back from the other structures. We're told it's Bobby's "garage"; the place he keeps his prized toys. But in reality, it's so much more than that...
From the outside, it looks more like a regular house with a focus on garage- rather than living space. It even has a large wrap-around deck on the upper-level.
As I walk in, Bobby greets me with a firm handshake and a BLT sandwich. I knew Bobby from my time as a racecar driver. In fact, I drove for him in the 2008 Indy 500, so we immediately begin talking cars.
After a short while, I get a chance to take a proper look at his so-called garage, and let me tell you, it's nicer than my house. Bobby and his wife Johanna practically lived here for almost a year. "I thought it was perfect," he joked, "but my wife didn't agree!"
The walls are lined with posters, photos and racing memorabilia from throughout his illustrious career. About 80% of his trophies are here, including his Indy Car World Series Championship-winning trophy from 1986, and the baby Borg Warner trophy, received for winning the Indy 500 as a team owner in '04.
Upstairs is an immaculate kitchen/bar, with a leather sofa, a wall filled with racing books and a massive TV. And there's another wrap-around deck leading off the living room that overlooks the racetrack outside. As you can tell, this is more than your average garage.
Downstairs, tucked away in a corner, is what can only be described as every man's dream - a slot car track of epic proportions, designed specifically for Bobby and modeled on his favorite racetrack; Road America. Overhead is another gigantic TV displaying your position relative to the other slot car racers, as well as your lap times.
Without question, though, the best part of the garage is a collection of cars that any petrolhead would choose. In fact, Rahal spent six months back in '07 constructing this pristine garage from the ground up in order to house his treasured cars.
Rahal's face lights up as he begins to tell us about the collection, and you immediately know it's an overriding passion. Looking around, it's apparent he has a preference and special affection for European cars - especially those dating from 1960-1973. "I think the '60s was the most amazing decade for the automobile," he explained. "When you look at what they were like in 1959 compared to 1970, there's a huge difference."
With Bobby growing up in Ohio, we're keen to know how he developed an obsession for European cars. "My father always had sports cars," he recalled. "I grew up around Porsches, Alfa Romeos, and cars like that. I believe you tend to follow the path of your parents."
Classic cars have always been Bobby's passion, and he starts describing how the older you get, the more emotional you become and reminisce more. "Today's cars are fantastic, but really don't have a strong personality," he explained. "Classic cars aren't perfect, by any stretch of the imagination. They can be loud, problematic, and definitely not something you'd want to drive to Florida. But with current regulations, cars tend to look alike, especially at the lower price points. With older cars, you didn't have computers designing them; it was some guy's idea of what a car should look like."
Bobby showed us his first ever racecar. It's a '64 Elva-Porsche. His dad also raced this car and asked the 17 year-old Bobby if he wanted to enter a novice event in Canada. It would be Bobby's inaugural event. "I was leading," he remembered, "but spun off and got stuck in a farmer's field. My dad was mad. He said, 'who do you think you are, Jim Clark?
"I was buried up to the axle in mud. After that weekend there was no indication that racing was in my future, but it turned out to be the opposite."
Next, we stopped at a car that didn't seem to belong in such esteemed company. "I bought this '79 VW Beetle Convertible because it represents my first car," he said. "I love driving this thing. So many people give you a thumbs up, but if you were driving a Ferrari, they'd probably flip you the bird."
Bobby owned his '71 Beetle for two years before purchasing a '72 BMW 2002 Tii in his remaining few years of college.
After he retired from racing, a lengthy search led him to find an unmodified, bright orange 2002 Tii (similar to his original). "I rung its neck," Bobby laughed. "I'd drive the wheels off it in college. It was a miracle I'm still alive, to be honest. I guess you could say I really learned to drive in a BMW 2002."
The next gem is a pristine deep-red '64 Porsche 356 SC Coupe. This one has a sunroof and is another perfect example of his love for European cars. "No doubt, this was one of the most amazing Porsches ever built. It's a true classic," he said.
Across the room is a bright yellow '81 Mini Moke. The plan, he said, was to have the car sent to his lake house in Michigan where it would be used as a family buggy. "It's fun," he laughed. "People point at you when they see it."
Taking a few steps, my jaw drops. It would appear Bobby's all-time favorite is the same as mine. "This is a '61 Jaguar E-Type," he said with pride. "I think it's one of the most beautiful cars ever designed."
In typical fashion, Bobby chose the '61 because it was the best of the breed. It had the external hood locks and original flat floor. "Back then, people with big feet couldn't drive the E-Type, so Jaguar eventually dropped the floor," he described. "This car is so special to me, I could never imagine selling it. I even had Dario Franchitti drooling over it once..."
In the center of the garage stands a silver '73 BMW 3.0 CSL Batmobile. BMW built just 167 of these cars, making them as rare as they are expensive. Bobby described the six-cylinder engine as "smooth, with a lot of torque. One of the best engines of its time." His car doesn't sport the massive rear wing but it's in the trunk, just as it was originally delivered to the dealer. "The wing makes it look a little boy-racer for me," he said. "I don't think the car needs it because it's such a naturally beautiful machine."
Rahal also told us about the '79 M1 currently undergoing restoration as further evidence of his affection for BMW, a feeling fed by his current involvement with the BMW ALMS team.
In order to photograph another special car in his collection (the '98 Reynard Indy Car used in his last professional race), Bobby asked me to back the precious CSL out of the garage to create some room. I only drove it 50 yards - creeping, determined not to scratch any of his priceless machines - but that short drive made my hair stand on end. The sound, the feel of the clutch, engaging the gears, it came alive.
As we pulled the Indy Car into the main area, I asked why there was writing on the side pods. He explained that on the night before his last professional race at Fontana, the fans paid $50 to write a personal message, with the money going to charity. And after the race, all the drivers signed their gloves and gave them to him as a gift - they're hanging on the wall adjacent to the Elva-Porsche.
I begin to wonder if there was a car Bobby regretted selling. Without hesitation he responded: "My '61 Ferrari 250. It was a phenomenal car. That was the one I should never have sold. But I got divorced and it usually takes a chunk out of your car collection," he smiled. "I used to have a Gullwing Mercedes, too, and I'd really like to have another of those one day..."
Without question, this is every guy's dream garage. Slot cars, TV, a bar, racetrack outside, and housing some of the greatest cars of all-time to drive and enjoy.
Time moves on, life changes, mustaches get shaved and priorities shift, but Bobby Rahal's garage is about preserving a piece of personal history. The building is an expression of his personality, and his life to date. But this isn't just a garage. Without question, it's perhaps the world's greatest man cave.
Despite having an apparent passion for European cars, Rahal maintains an affection for Americana, especially the classic muscle cars. His garage houses a brutal Shelby Cobra, a Corvette pacecar he received after winning the '86 Indy 500, and an immaculate '65 Ford Shelby Mustang GT350. Amazingly, when he purchased the latter it had paddock passes from Laguna Seca dating back to 1967 in the glovebox - a momento he's kept in the car to this day.