When NHL star David Clarkson and IndyCar driver Graham Rahal met for the first time at last weekend’s Honda Indy Toronto, they found they had more in common than just their drive to help children battling serious illnesses, including a mutual respect for each other’s sport. And while the celebrity athletes only exchanged jerseys at the end of their joint media conference, both were open to switching jobs one day.
Rahal laughed as he recounted his journey into the world of hockey fandom, which has its roots in a middle-school romance with the daughter of a Columbus Blue Jackets’ season ticket holder.
“They had seats right down at the boards. If you got a good enough check, you could feel it through the knees,” remembered the Ohio-native. “So I started to go to games with her family, and just sort of got hooked. Hockey is one of the only sports that really captures my attention. There are a lot of other sports that I can’t get into, but hockey is one that I love. I don’t think it matters where you go, it’s always a lot of fun.”
While Graham got excited talking NHL Playoffs, Clarkson, a 2012 Stanley Cup Finalist, was equally effusive about life in the fast line.
“To go out in a car and drive as fast as they do, I don’t think there is anyone would tell you they wouldn’t like to do that!” the Clarky’s Kids founder said with a grin, adding that there were more similarities between driving a race car and lacing up skates than one might expect.
“I was impressed,” confessed David. “When I went down to the pit and saw Graham reviewing video with his coaches, I think that’s when it hit me how alike hockey and racing can be. It’s preparation: being mentally ready, preparing for any situation you could be faced with. I think from an athlete’s standpoint, we’re really very similar.”
Graham also noticed the similarities, especially when it comes to the need for teamwork. Whether you’re on the ice or the asphalt, the youngest race winner in IZOD IndyCar Series history says you’re only as good as those around you.
“It’s a team effort. Sure there are stars, but the whole team makes it work.”
The comparisons don’t stop there. Hockey players have a reputation for being superstitious – Clarkson detailed his routine of eating the same foods and taking a nap at the same time every game day. It seems, Rahal and many of his racing cohorts take comfort in rituals too.
“There are definitely superstitions. I always get into my car from the left side, for whatever reason. I always put my right glove on before my left, little things like that,” admitted Graham with a chuckle. “I’m not really superstitious, though. Do I wear the same pair of underwear every race? No. Some guys do, though! I wear the same suit, but that’s only because it fits the best.”
And when it comes to motivation, both Clarkson and Rahal have found their biggest supporters close to home. Graham’s father is a three-time series champion, and the younger Rahal said his father encouraged him to pursue his dreams on the race track.
“Growing up I was always at the race track and I loved it. I always followed him. I would say Dad is the biggest reason that I race. Knowing myself, and knowing my passion for cars I probably would have been into it, no matter what, but to be where I am today, that’s his influence.”
Clarkson’s father, Eric, wasn’t a professional hockey player, but David echoed Graham’s gratitude, citing Dad as a primary influence on his career.
“My dad was someone who loved the game and played with me as a kid,” recalled David. “Whenever I wanted to go out, even when he was too tired, he’d still get up to go play with me. I think he’s the reason I am where I am, just him teaching me and pushing me and just playing with me and having fun.”
With so much in common, it’s hardly surprising that the two athletes were considering swapping equipment. It turns out that Rahal has ties to former Lubbock Cotton King Anthony Donskov and his brother Misha, who recently joined the Ottawa 67’s as an Associate Coach. But when it comes to playing himself?
“I can’t… it is… how many people here have tried to shoot a puck on ice? It is so hard,” he told the crowd with a laugh. But he has thought about what position he’d play.
“Definitely not a goalie! I know that. I’m not big enough to be an enforcer but I think that would be fun. Just go out hitting people, sounds like fun to me.”
Put another checkmark in the ‘similarities’ column – Clarkson’s no stranger to the penalty box. In addition to his 30 regular-season goals, the gritty winger also racked up a team-leading 138 penalty minutes last year. The only question left to answer: is David a good enough driver to take on the track?
“I would say yes. My wife would probably say no. I like to drive fast – I think that’s why I like racing. I have a motorcycle and I enjoy the speed. For me, being here and seeing how fast these guys go, it’s impressive,” he said, while keeping an eye on the qualification races. “Hearing stories, it sounds like it gets a little scary, but I would love to get in a car one day and try it out.”
For now, it looks like Rahal and Clarkson will stick to the sports they know best, choosing instead to team up off-the-clock to pursue their passion for helping sick children and their families. Learn more about Clarky’s Kids and the Graham Rahal Foundation by visiting their websites.