Redwood Grad Rides With 49ers Coach In IndyCar

Panther Racing driver JR Hildebrand will proudly display the 49ers' colors on his IndyCar ride during this weekend's race at his home track in Sonoma. 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh co-owns Panther Racing.

JR Hildebrand was a two-sport athlete in high school, but football wasn't one of the sports. But he'll be wearing a San Francisco 49ers uniform this week.

The Redwood High grad does have something in common with 49ers quarterback Alex Smith … head coach Jim Harbaugh is also co-owner of Panther Racing. Hildebrand's No. 4 National Guard IndyCar — in honor of Harbaugh, who wore the number as quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts — will have a 49ers paint scheme for this weekend's GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma.

Hildebrand will visit with Harbaugh and players on Thursday at 49ers camp in Santa Clara, where he'll unveil the car.

"I grew up watching a lot of sports. It's great to get out of my own realm a little and get into something else," said Hildebrand, a Sausalito native. "I grew up a Niners fan. After last year I was really impressed. They have more bullets in their gun this year. There's always a chance they can win the championship. They have a hell of a roster."

Hildebrand also grew up following the San Francisco Giants and was a talented baseball player for the Redwood Giants in high school.

Hildebrand, in his second full season of IndyCar racing, is 14th in the overall championship points standings entering this weekend's action. He trails points leaders Will Power by 146 points.

Ryan Hunter-Reay is second in the standings, just five points behind Power, the two-time defending champion at Sonoma. Helio Castroneves, another past Sonoma winner, is third in the standings.

This has been a difficult season at times for Hildebrand, who has just two top-five finishes in 12 starts. Mechanical issues kept him from finishing in Milwaukee and he got caught up in a crash in Iowa during back-to-back races in June.

"It's hard not to get frustrated with this. We've had weekends where stuff just has not gone our way," Hildebrand said. "It's tough to handle … but part of the job is to deal with that. At Panther Racing, I think we do that well. … You learn from what you can and try to do better."

Hildebrand has a chance to earn his first career IndyCar victory at his home track Sunday, although he doesn't feel like he necessarily has a advantage at Sonoma.

"The home field advantage kind of disappears when I'm competing against guys who have been racing these cars as long as I've been driving anything," Hildebrand said Wednesday, sitting next to four-time and defending IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti, who made his debut in 2002.

That was the same year Hildebrand won the Jim Russell Kart Series TaG 125 class championship. He dominated the karting track at the Sonoma race facility, but even then he knew he'd be competing on the big road course.

The 2.31-mile course, which features hills and near-blind turns, has been altered slightly for the GoPro Indy Grand Prix to allow for more passing this year, with 12 turns and 85 laps.

"I'm something of a purist. I'd like to run the course the way it was originally designed," Hildebrand said.

Franchitti is glad to see the changes. "It increases the passing chances. The corners that were taken out weren't really part of the character of the track. It's going to be an exciting race."


GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma

  • When: August 24-26
  • Course: 12 turns, 2.31 miles
  • Distance: 85 laps
  • 2011 Race Winner: Will Power
  • Tickets: www.racesonoma.com/indycar

Like us on Facebook / Follow us on Twitter and Foursquare /
Have our free newsletter delivered

Tracy August 23, 2012 at 07:38 AM
Indy cars, JR Hildebrand and the 49'ers, does it get any better?
Derek Wilson August 26, 2012 at 11:23 PM
Hildebrand finishes 8th.
PK August 27, 2012 at 12:07 AM
All in the same day. Exciting.
Rocky August 27, 2012 at 04:14 AM
Indy cars and the 49'ers! Talk about an awesome combo.
Tracy August 27, 2012 at 04:35 AM
Hildebrand had a good race today. It was a great day for racing!


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »