Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: Building Upon Its Legacy in Zionsville
Earlier this month, Rahal Letterman Lanigan (RLL) announced plans to expand and establish its global headquarters in Zionsville’s Creekside Corporate Park, to be completed in 2022. The iconic racing organization will create up to 73 new jobs by the end of 2024.
I had the extreme honor of speaking with three-time IndyCar Champion and 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal. Founded in 1992, RLL is co-owned by Rahal, former CBS “Late Show” host and Indiana native David Letterman and Mi-Jack co-owner Mike Lanigan.
IndyCar Racing Royalty
For those of us Hoosiers who have grown up at the track and have racing fever every May … well, typically every May … the Rahal name evokes a deep sense of tradition and gravitas when spoken.
Ohio native Robert “Bobby” Woodward Rahal worked his way up through the racing ranks in an 18-year career spanning F1, Can-Am, Le Mans/IMSA and CART. Rahal took the checkered flag at three CART championships, including a win at the 1986 Indy 500, along with wins at the 1981 24 Hours of Daytona and the 1987 12 Hours of Sebring endurance races.
In his open-wheel racing career, Rahal started 264 races for five teams, took 18 poles and scored 24 wins. Rahal become one of a handful of individuals to win the coveted Indy 500 as both a driver and team owner when Buddy Rice clenched the 2004 Indy 500. Rahal is also credited for bringing Honda into North American open-wheel racing in the early 1990s.
Racing continues to run through the Rahal blood with Rahal’s son, Graham, who is one of the top young talents in the RLL organization. Additionally, Rahal and the RLL organization have overseen the growth of the team from a one-car program to a multi-car, multi-discipline organization that has developed some of open-wheel racing’s best talents, such as two-time Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato, Oriol Servia, Ryan Hunter-Reay, 2004 Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice, Danica Patrick, Bryan Herta, Max Papis, Kenny Brack, Jimmy Vasser and Michel Jourdain Jr.
This year, RLL earned its second Indy 500 win when Takuma Sato also took home his second victory at this year’s unprecedented race this past August.
Why Zionsville? Why Now?
RLL, which has four entries in the NTT IndyCar Series and the IMSA (International Motor Sports Association) WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, will invest more than $20 million to build and equip a 100,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art racing headquarters that will occupy 13 acres within the Creekside Corporate Park in Zionsville. The new facility will allow RLL to consolidate its existing IndyCar operations in Brownsburg, as well as its IMSA operations in Hilliard, Ohio.
The new building will feature office and event space as well as automotive R&D and light manufacturing operations to support the dynamic functions of RLL’s racing teams. The company expects to break ground on its headquarters in late 2020 and be fully operational by spring 2022.
Rahal shared that RLL has observed over the years that Indianapolis with its surrounding communities has become the mecca for IndyCar teams as it continues to attract organizations like RLL with the state’s economic incentives and skilled workforce.
“We’ve really been based, to a large extent, in the Columbus, Ohio area since I started IndyCar racing in 1982,” Rahal shared. “I drove for the Truesports team, which was based in Hilliard, Ohio, which is a western suburb of Columbus. Since 2012, we’ve rented a facility in Brownsburg, Indiana, and we’ve always wanted to have our own facility again. And over time, it has become clear that the IndyCar world has really come to be centered in Indianapolis.”
Rahal continued, “Prior to that [centralization], Newman/Hass Racing was based in Illinois and [Team] Penske was in Pennsylvania. Teams had their headquarters all over the nation, but in the 2000s, [IndyCar] had really become centered in Indianapolis and the surrounding counties. It became clear to us that we [RLL] needed to have a common rooftop [headquarters], and the Indianapolis area made the most sense, and the timing was right.”
As RLL began investigating where in the Indianapolis area it should look to “set its stake down,” Rahal shared that the town of Zionsville was incredibly proactive and welcoming to Rahal and his co-owners.
“We’ve had nothing but fantastic support from the mayor, her deputy mayor and all the people on the development side of the town who have all been great to work with,” Rahal said. “It became clear when we found a very nice piece of property [in Creekside Corporate Park] that this is where we should be. I’m very pleased to be part of an office park and not an industrial park. We have designed a building that we think not only speaks a lot about us as a team and organization but also the Zionsville community. As proud as we are of eventually being a citizen of Zionsville, hopefully the people of Zionsville will be proud of us.”
Zionsville Mayor Emily Styron added, “I am excited for Rahal Letterman Lanigan to join the Zionsville community and to be located in Creekside Corporate Park. Since day one, our administration has been focused on removing the obstacles that previously prohibited economic growth in town. Now we are excited to announce the first new corporation to break ground in Creekside Corporate Park in four years. This announcement is a testament to our investment in bringing new headquarters and businesses to our one-of-a-kind corporate conservation park. We look forward to welcoming the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team to our community!”
Pushing Through the Pandemic
It goes without saying that RLL had not factored in the current pandemic into its short- or long-term plans. I asked Rahal if he feels that it would have any impact on RLL’s deployment of constructing the new HQ and if the pandemic would have a lasting negative impact on the future of IndyCar racing.
“Obviously, the Indy 500 was a very strange event for everybody,” Rahal expressed. “But we will get through this, and there is no doubt in my mind that the number of people that will come back to the races will be even greater than before and there will be an even greater appreciation for what was taken away from us by this pandemic. I think the pandemic will rebuild the audience like never before instead of diminishing it. We feel really good about the future, and we think we will be in our new facility by early 2022. That is our plan.”