Wives of Indy Drivers Harbor Their Own Trials
People who believe a race car driver lives a glamorous life full of bright lights and big paychecks have never been married to one.
The wives of the Indy car drivers learn to live out of a suitcase, travel from city to city without ever seeing more than a race track and hotel room, and tolerate increased demands on their husbands’ time as their careers take off.
Before a driver reaches the Indianapolis 500, there are years of driving on minor racing circuits, where the money is scarce.
“I think people don’t realize that although it’s fun, it’s kind of tiring because you only see the race track, the hotel and the restaurant,” said Debi Rahal, wife of Bobby Rahal, last year’s Indy 500 winner and CART driving champion.
“And with a child you’re more concerned with being back at the hotel early and you also have sponsor commitments, so it’s not as glamorous. It can be very exhausting.”
Debi and Bobby, married seven years, are the parents of Michaela, 1.
Sandy and Michael Andretti are new parents, with Marco born March 13. They have been married two years, although they dated six years before they were married. She still loves the travel, although she can foresee the day when being a mother will force her to stay home in Nazareth, Pa.
“I enjoy the traveling, but now with the baby this keeps me very busy,” Sandy Andretti said. “Normally I would go to the track every day; now, with Marco, I don’t. Marco and Michael have their father-son talk before he goes to the track and when he gets home. We love traveling. We’re going to travel as much as a family as we can.”
Rahal reached the pinnacle of the Indy car world in 1986, earning nearly $1.5 million and winning six races. As the Rahals drove home to Dublin, Ohio, after winning at Indianapolis, they took time out to remember how tough things were when they first got married.
“When we drove home from Indy, we were both very emotional about it,” Debi Rahal said. “There were times when we were first married, when he didn’t have a Can-Am ride, he was doing some IMSA, and he was frustrated. Now he’s at the top. Now it’s like a dream and I would hope that everybody would feel that excitement and satisfaction.”
Neither Debi Rahal nor Sandy Andretti was a race fan before meeting their husband.
“It’s like a disease and you just become hooked,” Debi Rahal said. “I had never been to a race. I had seen part of Indy on TV, but that’s all. As soon as I met Bobby, that was it. It became my life as well as his.”
“I wasn’t impressed with them (drivers) because I’m not a race fan at all,” Sandy Andretti said. “I fell in love with Michael. I’m not fond of it because of the dangers, but I learned to love it because he loves it.”
The dangers of auto racing have been apparent this month at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where 23 cars have come into contact with the wall. Both Debi and Sandy said they, like their husbands, don’t spend too much time thinking about how dangerous the sport can be.
“The more you learn about the cars, I wouldn’t say that you’re not concerned -- we all think about the danger -- but you learn to internalize it at some point,” said Debi Rahal, who works as a timer on Bobby’s team.
“You have to have confidence in your husband and his ability,” she said. “It’s the other people out there that worry me more than Bobby. It’s the freak things that you can’t control that worry me.”
Sandy Andretti, who watches races form the pits but is not part of Michael’s team, said an organization of drivers’ wives, Championship Auto Racing Auxiliary, helped her deal with the fear she first felt.
“That has helped me a lot because at first I thought there was something wrong with me because I would get so nervous, so uptight,” she said. “I felt like that until I spent time with the other women a few years ago at Indy. Then I found out we were in the same boat.”