Graham Rahal and Courtney Force pack meals

INDIANAPOLIS – Even when dedicating time to a charitable effort, the competitor in Graham Rahal shines through.

On Friday, Rahal joined some 50 employees from Fifth Third Bank, his NTT IndyCar Series team’s sponsor, to help assemble and pack meals for the food insecure in Indiana. It came on May 3 – which the bank’s officials proudly call Fifth Third Day, since it’s the fifth month and third day of the year – as part of the goal to deliver one million meals this month to those in need throughout Fifth Third’s national footprint.

Fifth Third employees packing mealsAs he donned a hair net and prepared to assist in the assembly line putting together bags containing a mixture of long-grain rice, soy protein and vegetables, Rahal was eager to see if he and his team of volunteers could push the accelerator on their expected output.

“They say you can do 200 meals an hour, but hopefully we can get up to 230,” Rahal said, alluding to the speed in miles per hour that brings a smile to drivers’ faces if achieved in Indianapolis 500 qualifying. “Somewhere closer to the race car numbers.”

The encouragement apparently worked. The driver of the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda was joined Friday by his wife, recently retired drag racing star Courtney Force, on his team’s assembly line (they are shown working together in the photo at top). They won a competition among the five teams to see which could assemble and pack a box filled with 36 bagged meals the fastest.

But Rahal, who has a home in central Indiana, knows the effort put forth is much more than to see who can make the most meals in the least time. The 30-year-old son of 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal pointed out that one in five people in central Indiana are food insecure – they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. That includes many children.

This was the fourth year that Rahal has participated in an Indianapolis-area community effort with Fifth Third Bank. While some previous activities have included more direct contact with those who are affected – including helping children at a downtown center begin planting an urban vegetable garden or making hot lunches for youngsters at a day-care facility near Indianapolis Motor Speedway – Friday’s undertaking was just as important.

Box of packaged meals“In this case, you don’t meet or see the people that this is going to affect or help their life,” Rahal said of packing the meals, “but it’s shocking when you step back and look at how many people are affected by this that are very close to us here in central Indiana – and throughout the entire state and throughout the country.”

Fifth Third is one of several RLL sponsors/partners with worthwhile charitable extensions. Others include United Rentals and its Turns for Troops fundraiser to assist military veterans and Colorado State University’s One Cure program to fund cancer research that can aid both humans and animals. It’s the right thing to do, according to Rahal.

“To take a platform that we (as a race team and sponsor) have here and try to utilize that for the betterment of others, that’s the way it should be done, in my eyes,” he said.

Kevin Hipskind, Fifth Third Bank regional president, Greater Indiana Gateway Region, said the goal of this particular effort on Friday was to pack 20,000 meals.

“It’s Fifth Third Day and we like to think it’s a ‘fifth third better’ that we’re delivering 20,000 meals here today,” Hipskind said with a smile, alluding to the bank’s promotional tagline.

Friday’s gathering was the first of several over the next few days where Fifth Third is backing events that support the community. Rev presented by Fifth Third Bank, the annual event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway highlighting drivers, celebrity chefs, fine food and fun, takes place Saturday evening. On Monday, the #Horsepower500 powered by Fifth Third Bank gathers INDYCAR drivers to compete in a fun-filled tricycle race at Children’s TherAplay in Carmel, Indiana, to raise awareness and funds for the group’s equine-assisted physical and occupational therapy programs.

“We get really excited about the month of May,” Hipskind said. “One, because of our relationship with RLL Racing and the excitement around the race. But the other great thing is that the drivers give back so much during the month of May. It’s great to partner with Graham because Graham and Bobby are both committed to giving back to the community. Today is a prime example of that.”

Rahal and the rest of the NTT IndyCar Series drivers and teams have a busy racing month ahead. The INDYCAR Grand Prix takes place on the IMS road course on Saturday, May 11. The 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge is set for Sunday, May 26.

Fifth Third employees with Graham Rahal