David Letterman, comedian and late-night talk show host, is currently embattled in a sex scandal involving former employees. But like his former late-night counterpart Jay Leno, Letterman’s celebrity has catapulted his interest away from entertainment and into the automobile industry.
Letterman isn’t an avid car collector like Leno. Rather, with his close friend Bobby Rahal, the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner, Letterman for more than a decade has been co-owner of Rahal Letterman Racing. The team is based in Hilliard, Ohio, and competes part-time in the IndyCar Series and in other of auto racing disciplines.
The team dates to 1991. Following the 1991 CART season, Bobby Rahal left the Galles-Kraco Racing team. Despite consistent top finishes, Rahal actually won only two races from 1989-1991. Correspondingly, Danny Sullivan left the Patrick Racing team, following a dismal season with the Alfa Romeo engine.
The two drivers essentially swapped rides. Sullivan joined Galles, and Rahal joined Patrick. By the winter of 1991, however, Patrick Racing started to collapse due to financial and legal issues regarding the Alfa Romeo engine. Rumors had surfaced that Patrick had based parts of the Alfa-Romeo engine on the Chevrolet Indycar engine.
Letterman’s official involvement began in 1997 when he purchased partial owner of Patrick Racing Team. Rahal retired at the end of the following season.
The team changed its name again to Rahal Letterman Racing in May 2004. For the 2005 season, RLR’s three drivers were Buddy Rice, who won the 2004 Indianapolis 500 while driving for the team, Vitor Meira, who finished second in the 2005 and 2008 Indy 500s, and Danica Patrick, who finished fourth in the 2005 Indy 500.
The Rahal-Letterman team placed three cars in the top eight for the Toyota Indy 300 during March 25, 2006, qualifying (Patrick third, Rice sixth, Dana ninth), and expected good things to come the next day for the race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
But tragedy occurred the during final practice. Vision Racing’s Ed Carpenter crashed in turn two and the car slid down the 20-degree banking. Dana, who seemed to not receive the signal from the spotter, ran into the gearbox section of Carpenter’s car, sending Dana’s car flying on the backstretch.
Dana died in the hospital later that afternoon, and the entire team, including Patrick and Rice, withdrew immediately.
In 2007 IndyCar Series, RLR fielded two cars and the 2008 IndyCar Series, RLR fielded one car driven by Ryan Hunter-Reay, whi won the IndyCar Series event at Watkins Glen.
With the sponsorship of DAFCA, the Rahal-Leterman team participated in the 2009 Indianapolis 500, where driver Oriol Servià, after starting on the ninth row, advanced to 10th place but completed only 98 laps before being forced to quit due to mechanical problems.
Rahal Letterman also fielded a Porsche 911 GT3 in the 2007 American Le Mans Series season and this year is fielding the BMW’s works-backed M3 E92 in the GT2 class.
Letterman has attended the Indy 500 on several times as well as other automotive industry events at various race tracks like Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California. He has also interviewed numerous drivers on his television show as well as industry luminaries.