Bobby Rahal joins bobsled foundation

Bobby Rahal is going to seek wins on different tracks -- ones covered with ice.

The IndyCar team owner and 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner has agreed to become chairman of the recently created USA Bobsled and Skeleton Foundation, where he will help oversee fundraising and development efforts for the sliding sports. The announcement was made Friday in Baltimore, where Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing is competing this weekend.

"It's a big job, it's a huge responsibility, but I love the idea of American athletes competing against the world's best and proving they're the best," Rahal told The Associated Press. "And if I can help that in some way, shape or form, then I'm all for it."

Rahal, a three-time IndyCar champion driver, doesn't see the position as honorary. He's never been in a bobsled, but expects that to change in the coming months. He said he's committed to the foundation for "a long time," which likely means through at least the 2014 Sochi Olympics -- where the U.S. is expected to strongly contend for medals in both bobsled and skeleton.

Rahal said engineers from his racing team are already looking to see how they can help on the development side of creating the fastest possible bobsleds and skeleton sleds. And he plans to jump into his new role quickly.

"All my friends have yet to figure out that they're going to get a call," Rahal said.

Rahal and the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation -- the foundation will operate as a separate nonprofit organization -- began talks more than a year ago, after an introduction through mutual team sponsor BMW.

Rahal and USBSF CEO Darrin Steele continued their talks at this year's Indy 500, and Rahal said he only decided to accept after thinking it over for some time.

"My wife said I couldn't turn this down," Rahal said.

The idea for the foundation has been in the discussion phase for more than two years, and Steele said he wanted to wait to find the right chairman before the program formally got started.

"Bobby Rahal was definitely worth the wait," Steele said.

USBSF athletes were predictably thrilled for the chance to work with Rahal, who is also going to make a personal contribution to the foundation as well as serve as its chair.

"USBSF athletes can feel an additional sense of support and confidence knowing that a proven winner will be on our side helping the federation take on the difficult task of fundraising," world and Olympic bobsled champion Curt Tomasevicz said. "Bobby Rahal has a reputation of being successful in competitive racing, and his involvement will be a great asset."

Rahal said he already feels a connection with sliding. He's a longtime Olympic fan, and his mentor Jim Trueman -- who owned the car that Rahal won at Indy with in 1986 -- used to sponsor a bobsled team himself.

Plus, he said it's simply a good time to work with the USBSF, which won world championships in both bobsled and skeleton last winter and has won medals at each of the past three Winter Olympics.

"I feel pressure to do even more," Rahal said. "I think it's fantastic that they've had so much success. But it's like anything. It's like racing a car, just because you had success in your last race doesn't mean you'll have success in your next one. It's a continual process. But we've got something to sell, based on their performances. It's not like we're trying to sell something that hasn't performed. They have."