INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - (May 22, 2013) – Panther Racing co-owner Jim Harbaugh will drive the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray pace car for this weekend’s 97th Running of the Indianapolis 500, officials from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway announced today. Harbaugh was a founding partner in Panther Racing when it was originally formed in 1997, and the team’s primary IndyCar Series entry has always been No. 4 in honor of the jersey number Harbaugh wore during a majority of his collegiate and NFL career. Harbaugh, the current head coach of the San Francisco 49ers and former Indianapolis Colts quarterback, led the 49ers to the Super Bowl earlier this year.
Panther ran a 49ers-themed livery on its No. 4 National Guard Chevrolet during the IndyCar Series race at Sonoma Raceway in 2012, and Harbaugh hosted team driver JR Hildebrand, managing partner John Barnes and soldiers from the California National Guard on a visit to the Niners training facility.
“I’ve learned a lot from the team dynamic at Panther Racing and John Barnes as a leader; how he runs hit unit,” Harbaugh said. “And carry a lot of that over into coaching and what we do here with the San Francisco 49ers.”
And now Harbaugh gets to pace the 33-car field during the Indianapolis 500, a race he once referenced as “better than Christmas.”
"As a longtime racing fan and someone who has always followed the Indianapolis 500, the honor to drive the Pace Car comes as a tremendous thrill," Harbaugh said. "Doing it in the all-new 2014 Corvette Stingray makes it even better. It's an iconic car leading an iconic race."
Hildebrand, a San Francisco Bay area native and lifelong 49ers fan, qualified in the 10th position for Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 in the team’s National Guard Chevrolet.
“It’s always great for us to see Jim when he comes back to Indy for the race, and I don’t know too many people who love the Indianapolis 500 more than Jim Harbaugh,” Barnes said. “We’re unbelievably proud of all the success that he’s had in his playing and coaching career, and driving the Chevy pace car this Sunday is just another well-deserved accomplishment that we all know he’ll enjoy.”
Harbaugh and his family used to come to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during his childhood and in 1994, after signing with the Indianapolis Colts, he met John Barnes during a visit to the Speedway. The two men kept in touch as Barnes was laying the groundwork to form Panther, and when it was time to form the team, Harbaugh was all in.
“Two championships and 28 victories later, the rest is history,” Harbaugh said. “It’s been a great team, and a real privilege for me to be a small part of this team.”
The 97th Running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race will be held on Sunday, May 26th and broadcast live on ABC starting at 12 pm (ET) with additional coverage provided by the IMS Radio Network, XM/Sirius Channel 211. Practice, qualifying and race coverage is also available on the IndyCar Mobile app from Verizon.