The Buckeyes are 0-9 in bowl games all-time against the Southeastern Conference, a winless streak extended rather famously by losses in the BCS National Championship Games to Florida after the 2006 season and LSU in 2007. After those games, many pundits said that OSU was unable to keep up with the Gators and Tigers because of the lack of speed on the Buckeye roster.
Whether such a disparity exists or not is up to each observer, but Tressel pointed to the debate as a reason he accepted a ride in a two-seat IndyCar to the Buckeye Boosters Golf Outing on Monday from his office on the Ohio State campus.
The stunt was aided by Graham Rahal, an IRL driver who hails from New Albany, Ohio.
"Graham called after the last couple of bowl games and said we needed more speed, and so we said OK, we'll get together and try to work on our speed," Tressel said. "So that's what today is all about."
Tressel arrived for the event in the backseat of the two-seat race car with a police escort in tow. The car revved its way down Tremont Road before pulling into the parking lot where it sat for photos from onlookers and media.
The ninth-year head coach smiled for photos as he arrived and then went about the tough business of extricating himself from the tiny cockpit of the car that sported Ohio State logos on the nose cone and above the side panels. He admitted that the car might have only been going 40 miles per hour on its trip to the course but still described the experience as exhilarating.
"I wouldn't do it at 230 though, nor could I do it for 3½ hours," Tressel said. "It was fast."
Rahal, who followed Tressel to the golf course, spent the morning at the Woody Hayes Center with the OSU staff. The 20-year-old is in his second year in IRL and is one of the sport's rising stars, having won his first race last season and claimed his first pole earlier this year – an accomplishment that made him the youngest polesitter ever in IndyCar racing.
"I've been a huge Buckeye fan growing up here for a long, long time," Rahal said. "It's been great. It's just been awesome for me. I got to see the facilities over there. You don't realize it's very similar to what we would do on a race team in how you would prepare and all of those things. It's really impressive."
Tressel seemed just as pleased to meet Rahal, the son of 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal. The elder Rahal, who is from Medina, Ohio, was also a three-time series champion during his career and rose to prominence during the 1980s while Tressel first coached at Ohio State as an assistant and then at Youngstown State.
"I've always admired the Rahal family," Tressel said. "I told Graham that I was an assistant coach here when Bobby was beginning his charge, and I didn't really know him but I thought he was a tremendous role model for kids and the right kind of character and a great competitor."
The pair exchanged gifts upon arrival at the golf course, with Rahal giving Tressel an autographed racing helmet and the coach giving the racer an Ohio State hat and a copy of his book "The Winners Manual." The situation also gave the two a chance to discuss the various idiosyncrasies and dangers of their chosen sports.
"People always talk about what's the toughest sport, and I was telling him my belief that the toughest sport is the one where there might be bodily injury," Tressel said. "That's why I think football is a little bit tough, but going 230, crashing into walls, no thanks."
While Rahal is used to that ever-present threat, he ironically was kept out of football by his father because of health.
"I always wanted to play when I was younger, but my dad's exact words were, "No, I like your knees the way they are,' " Graham said. "So I never played football. But … when we played in the backyard I was always a wide receiver. That was my favorite, and then I think a quarterback would be fun."
Though he didn't play football competitively, Rahal still was able to give the Buckeye head man some advice – and, of course, it focused on the need for speed.
"He said we have to get faster," Tressel said. "He said his while life is built around getting faster and making those good decisions. If we can get faster and be one-10th as fast as he is, we have a chance."