Did you know that Panther Racing's primary IZOD IndyCar Series entry has been No. 4 since its inception as a tribute to founding partner Jim Harbaugh, who wore the jersey number for the majority of his college and NFL playing career?
For the Aug. 24-26 GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma, the National Guard car will carry a San Francisco 49ers livery as a tribute to the team's head coach. It just so happens that driver JR Hildebrand of nearby Sausalito, Calif., is a lifelong 49ers fan. Hildebrand, Panther Racing owner John Barnes, the team's pit crew and select soldiers from the National Guard will take the car to the 49ers training facility in Santa Clara on Aug. 23.
Spectators attending the Aug. 17 test at the raceway at Sonoma got an early look at the car.
"Jim likes to downplay his involvement, but he was an instrumental part of our team getting off the ground in 1997 and he helped lay the foundation that led Panther to two IndyCar championships," Barnes said. "He brought the same heart, integrity and effort to IndyCar racing that he had on the football field, which are the same key values that has enabled him to be such a successful coach. We're so unbelievably proud of his success and it's an honor for us showcase the colors of such an iconic NFL franchise like the 49ers next weekend in Sonoma."
Hildebrand, who met Harbaugh last August during a training camp session, also will wear a special 49ers-themed firesuit for the race weekend.
"For me, this is just awesome," Hildebrand said. "Having the opportunity to meet Jim last year, it was pretty cool to see how much he knows about IndyCar racing and that he was totally up to speed on what was going on at Panther. You don't have to be around him long to understand why these guys love playing for him and why they were able to have the success they did last year. So I'm pumped about wearing the Niners colors and certainly hope we do Jim and the boys proud up in Sonoma next weekend."