When JR Hildebrand was sorting out plans for next month’s Indianapolis 500 presented PennGrade Motor Oil, his first thought was to go back to the beginning. So he picked up the phone and called Dennis Reinbold.
As a result, Hildebrand will return to Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in the team’s No. 66 Chevrolet (shown above) for the 102nd running of the race on Sunday, May 27. It will be Hildebrand’s eighth Indy 500 and first with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, the team that gave Hildebrand his first shot in the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2010.
“I’m just really excited to be back,” Hildebrand said today on a media teleconference. “My first call up to the big leagues was from Dennis, and we’ve been in the same Chevy camp the last several years out at Indy.
“When I started working on getting this year figured out, it was an obvious phone call to make from my side. I’m excited that we were able to get it all put together.”
The deal, sponsored by cloud computing company leader Salesforce, will team Hildebrand with Sage Karam, who was named March 1 to drive the team’s No. 24 WIX Filters Chevrolet. Reinbold has fielded cars in the Indy 500 since 1999, with a top finish of fourth by Oriol Servia in the 2012 race.
“We’ve had 37 cars start the Indy 500 over the past close to 20 years now,” Reinbold said. “We’re looking forward to adding to that number and really going out there and trying to do whatever we can to win the race.”
Hildebrand, a 30-year-old native of Sausalito, Calif., has 62 Verizon IndyCar Series races on his resume, including three podium finishes. As an Indy 500 rookie in 2011, he was leading for Panther Racing when he crashed in the final turn of the final lap and finished second as Dan Wheldon won.
In his other six Indy 500s, Hildebrand has two top-10 finishes, including a sixth-place effort in 2016 with Ed Carpenter Racing. In his eight years at the top level, Hildebrand has three podium finishes, including two last year – third at ISM Raceway near Phoenix and second at Iowa Speedway – with ECR.
None of it would’ve happened, though, had Reinbold not put Hildebrand, fresh from five Indy Lights wins in three seasons and the 2009 championship, in a DRR car at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in August 2010. Karam will be looking to make his fifth Indy 500 as DRR fields a two-car effort for the first time since 2011.
“There’s a lot of work in expanding from one car to two cars,” Reinbold said. “You’re talking about additional pit equipment, additional wheel guns, radios – all kinds of things that you wouldn’t necessarily think of right off the top of your head. There’s a lot to it, and we’ve been working pretty much all offseason on acquiring equipment and putting things together.”
The connection between Hildebrand, Salesforce and Indianapolis made the sponsorship fit for all three. When he visited company executives in Salesforce Tower, San Francisco’s tallest building, Hildebrand could see across the bay to his hometown. The company’s second-largest operation in the U.S. is in the tallest building in Indianapolis, also named Salesforce Tower.
“Everybody is aware of how big Salesforce is,” Hildebrand said. “They’re probably right away the most-used sponsor in the paddock by other teams. It’s been an exciting road to get to this point with these guys.”
The choice of car numbers was left to Hildebrand, who picked No. 66 as a tribute to Jim Hall’s famous Chaparral and the winning number of Mark Donohue’s McLaren for Team Penske at the 1972 Indy 500.
“When I was a little kid racing go-karts, it was the first number I became enamored with from going to vintage races and seeing Jim Hall’s Chaparrals. For me, that’s the origination of why I’ve always liked the number.”
Practice for the 102nd Indianapolis 500 is set to begin Tuesday, May 15. Qualifying is scheduled for May 19-20. The race airs live at 11 a.m. ET on Sunday, May 27.