As a little boy growing up in Frankfort in the prior decade, Monon Rahman kicked his way around the youth soccer fields.
In those days, his parents, Rachana and Matiur Rahman, were the ones watching their son play soccer from the comfort of a Jeff Gordon-themed No. 24 lawn chair.
Having emigrated from Bangladesh, “They had no clue it was a ‘Jeff Gordon 24’ chair,” Monon Rahman says of his parents. “They just needed something to sit in (at the soccer games). I think they picked it up at Wal-Mart.”
As NASCAR returns to Kentucky Speedway this week culminating with Saturday night’s Monster Energy Cup Series Quaker State 400, the little boy whose parents unknowingly acquired a chair featuring the car number of one of stock car racing’s iconic drivers is now himself part of the NASCAR community.
Having graduated from the University of Kentucky at the tender age of 19 in May with a mechanical engineering degree, Monon Rahman has spent the past months as part of NASCAR’s Diversity Internship Program working in its Research and Development Center .
Having just turned 20, Rahman’s long-term career goal in NASCAR is ambitious: Becoming a Cup Series crew chief.
“That’s a big goal,” Rahman says. “It’s definitely going to take a lot of time.”
There is something quintessentially American about a son of immigrants falling in love with U.S. stock-car racing.
As a little boy, “I was kind of a train kid,” Rahman says. “But trains, cars, anything that had wheels, I was into.”
At age 7, Rahman saw the computer-animated movie Cars, and that sparked his interest in racing. A fourth-grade teacher who was a NASCAR fan helped channel Rahman’s interest toward stock cars.
“Watching it on TV, I kind of got hooked more and more into NASCAR,” Rahman says. “I started watching a whole lot of it in middle school.”
An area where Rahman has long been proceeding at an accelerated pace is his education. He graduated from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in 2015 at age 15 and entered UK as a 16-year-old.
Being in college at such a young age carried challenges. Rahman didn’t have a driver’s license when he began studying at the University of Kentucky.
“But the hardest thing, the first two years of college, I couldn’t sign my own (legal) waivers because I was under age,” he says. “My freshman year, we were going to the Johnson Center (a student wellness facility) to try to go on the rock-climbing wall. I couldn’t do it because I had to sign a waiver (that) I wasn’t old enough to sign.”
By the time Rahman started at UK, he had already decided his aspiration was a career in motorsports.
One surmises there is not an abundant amount of NASCAR interest in Bangladesh, so I wondered how Rahman’s parents reacted when he laid out his life plan.
“They were concerned at first,” Rahman says. “They were like ‘What is racing?’ But once they saw I was serious about it and was really putting in the time to figure it out, they were fine with me doing what I wanted to do.”
On the advice of Rhodes, Rahman got his first internship in the stock-car racing world with Venturini Motorsports, a longtime competitor in the ARCA Series (in baseball terms, the Class A of stock-car racing).
As his college graduation approached this spring, Rahman hoped to land a full-time job in NASCAR. As a fallback, he also applied for NASCAR’s Diversity Internship Program.
“It’s been really helpful to me to see how NASCAR operates from its side,” Rahman says. “My end goal is to work for a race team on the competition side of things. But it is definitely cool to understand how NASCAR operates, especially from a technical standpoint.”
Life can sometimes put an unusually nice touch on things. On the first week after Rahman moved to Charlotte for his NASCAR internship, he visited a local dirt track to watch racing.
There, Rahman ran into someone who had unwittingly played a role in his youth.
“I ended up talking to Jeff Gordon,” Rahman says. “I went up to him and talked to him about (the UK) Solar Car and gave him my business card. He was super nice.”
Rahman did not tell Gordon about the No. 24 chair from which his parents used to watch him play soccer.
“I’d love to work at Hendrick (Motorsports),” Rahman says of Gordon’s former race team. “Hopefully, one day that will happen and I can tell (Gordon) the story about that 24 chair.”
NASCAR races at Kentucky Speedway
Truck Series: Buckle Up in Your Truck 225, 7:30 p.m. Thursday (FS1)
Xfinity Series: Alsco 300, 7:30 p.m. Friday (NBC Sports)
Cup Series: Quaker State 400, 7:30 p.m. Saturday (NBC Sports)