National Guard strikes deal with Rahal Letterman Lanigan

In this April 21, 2013 file photo, Graham Rahal (15) gestures at the Indy Car Series' Grand Prix of Long Beach auto race in Long Beach, Calif. The long battle between Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Panther Racing for Army National Guard sponsorship ended Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014,with the coveted funding moving to Graham Rahal's car for the upcoming IndyCar season. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu, File)
In this April 21, 2013 file photo, Graham Rahal (15) gestures at the Indy Car Series' Grand Prix of Long Beach auto race in Long Beach, Calif. The long battle between Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Panther Racing for Army National Guard sponsorship ended Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014,with the coveted funding moving to Graham Rahal's car for the upcoming IndyCar season. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu, File)

The National Guard has a new deal with IndyCar racing team Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan.  I-Team 8’s chief investigative reporter Karen Hensel has been following the bidding war since last October.

At one point, Congress wanted to ban all military sports sponsorships.  Now, there’s a battle between Panther Racing and Rahal Letterman over a multi-million dollar Indycar sponsorship -one that went to Washington and the watchdog of federal contracts.  But even with a signed contract, I-Team 8 is breaking new details that suggest the fight may not be over.

Panther Racing has held the National Guard contract since 2008.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan bid on it last fall.  That started the long battle.  Panther appealed to keep the contract to the Government Accountability Office in Washington.  GAO investigated and recently denied the bid protest.

Owner Bobby Rahal told the Associated Press he feels strongly an American driver should represent the Guard. The National Guard tweeted:

<blockquote lang=”en”><p>It’s official! We are proud to sponsor the No. 15 <a href=”https://twitter.com/search?q=%23IndyCar&amp;src=hash”>#IndyCar</a&gt; driven by <a href=”https://twitter.com/GrahamRahal”>@GrahamRahal</a&gt;. Hooah! <a href=”https://twitter.com/RLLracing”>@RLLracing</a&gt; <a href=”http://t.co/6HR20A7gWh”>pic.twitter.com/6HR20A7gWh</a></p>&mdash; National Guard (@NationalGuard) <a href=”https://twitter.com/NationalGuard/statuses/431497140242636800″>February 6, 2014</a></blockquote>
<script async src=”//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

Panther Racing has had foreign drivers like the late Dan Wheldon and Vitor Meira. For two years, American driver JR Hildebrand drove for Panther.  A variety of non-American drivers filled the seat last year.

I-Team 8 questioned the National Guard if that factored into the decision.  National Guard Spokesman Rick Breitenfeldt responded saying, “Bobby Rahal can speak for himself about what he says or feels.  This was not part of the National Guard’s decision making process.”

Panther’s John Barnes released a statement on the Guard contract, “We are thankful for their partnership and very proud of the work we have done together, on and off the track. It has been an honor to represent our citizen soldiers.”

In the official Rahal release, driver Graham Rahal said, “This has been a long time coming; we have all worked very hard for this. For our sport, for every individual member of our team and for myself, this is probably the best news in the history of our organization.”

As for details of the GAO investigation, those have not yet been released because it is a “protected decision”. I-Team 8 confirms through sources there are questions regarding the actual contracting process by the National Guard.

So is the Army investigating? I-Team 8 is waiting on an answer.

Adjutant General Marty Umbarger with the Indiana National Guard released statement:

I’m pleased the National Guard colors will continue in IndyCar, and I’m looking forward to another exciting racing season. John and Jane Barnes of Panther Racing have been a terrific partner with the National Guard.  I and the entire Indiana National Guard want to express our deepest gratitude for the unwavering support that they have provided to our Soldiers, Airmen and their families.

Panther Racing has proudly carried the colors of our Guard in an exemplary manner over the past six years.  In my of tour of duty as Adjutant General, many individuals and organizations have supported our wounded warriors, but none have shown the care, compassion and concern for their well being more than John and Jane Barnes.

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