For the Rahals _ team owner Bobby and his racing son Graham _ returning to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is a lot like eating comfort food: familiar and satisfying.
The track is about 50 miles from the Rahal Letterman Racing shop in Hilliard, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus, and not far from New Albany, where 19-year-old Graham grew up and still lives.
The younger Rahal, now an IndyCar Series rookie driving for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, spent a lot of time at the track, nestled in rich, rolling farmlands.
That was a decade ago, when his father, a three-time champion in the CART series, was still racing and Graham spent long summer hours playing with friends and the children of other drivers in the paddock.
"You could certainly get in plenty of trouble," the youngster said. "Dad would stay in the motorhome (in the infield), so at night we'd always take the golf carts out and the security guys would get all mad. Memories of (this) place and Cleveland always stand out to me the most."
His father made 16 starts here from 1983 to 1998, posting eight top-three finishes, including consecutive victories in '85 and '86.
But that's only part of the connection for the elder Rahal.
The track was built in 1961 and purchased in 1981 by Jim Trueman, founder of the Red Roof Inns motel franchise and an amateur racer. A year later, Trueman started his own CART team, Truesport Racing, hiring Rahal to drive, and made major changes to the track, including new garages and a four-story tower.
"I have a lot of memories of this place," Bobby Rahal said Friday, between IndyCar practice sessions. "It's great seeing everybody and we've had a lot of success here.
"And it's amazing those garages and the tower are still standing more than 20 years later. I remember when Jim built all those. He took a (place) that was a great track but short on amenities and really turned it into something world class, so it's always good to come here."
For Graham, who surprised everyone by winning on the temporary street circuit at St. Petersburg, Fla., in his IndyCar debut in March _ the youngest IndyCar winner ever _ it's also another chance to match up more evenly with the returning IndyCar drivers and teams.
He drove last year in the Champ Car World Series, the successor to CART, and moved this season to IndyCar, along with eight other drivers as part of the long-awaited unification of American open-wheel racing.
He and the rest of the transition drivers know they are at a disadvantage on the ovals, where they have little experience with the tracks and the IndyCar equipment. But street and road courses, like the natural terrain Mid-Ohio track, are a different story.
And the younger Rahal has had his own share of success on the 13-turn, 2.258-mile circuit.
In 2005, racing in Formula Atlantic, he won the same national title that his father claimed 30 years earlier in the SCCA National Run-offs at Mid-Ohio. Graham hopes to add another title to his resume at some point, but his current goal is considerably more modest: to finish in the top-10 in the IndyCar standings.
He goes into Sunday's Honda 200 ranked 16th, but within 21 points of 10th-place Ed Carpenter.
"I don't have that much experience personally at Mid-Ohio," Graham said. "I have been here many times, but a lot of those times I was just watching. The team has a lot of experience here though. They raced here before I was even born.
"But there is still going to be a bit of a learning curve initially due to the different equipment."
The elder Rahal will watch from the pits as his team's entry, Ryan Hunter-Reay, also goes after his second win of the season. Hunter-Reay won two weeks ago on the road course at Watkins Glen, N.Y., his first IndyCar victory and the first win for Rahal Letterman since 2004.
"We felt we've run strong all year," Bobby Rahal said. "When you finally win again, it's great. It's like all that effort doesn't seem so tough anymore, and we've got a really good driver in Ryan. I think he's going to be in a position to win again.
"We feel like we've got a guy that, no matter where we are, we've got a chance. There's a little bit more bounce in everybody's step after that win."