Top Five in Texas, Successful Test at Iowa Speedway Has National Guard Team Confident
[media-credit name=”milwaukeeindyfest.com” align=”alignright” width=”210″][/media-credit]WEST ALLIS, Wis. – (June 14, 2012) – An impressive Top Five finish at Texas and a productive test Wednesday at IowaSpeedway has Panther Racing and National Guard driver JR Hildebrand feelingconfident heading into this weekend’s Milwaukee IndyFest. The Milwaukee Mile, a long-time IndyCar Series staple, will be revamped this year with new promoters and a renewed interest in one of the series’ more challenging racetracks.
Hildebrand finished 21st in Milwaukee last year after bending the suspension in the No. 4 following a brush with the wall late in the race. Panther’s best finish on this historic one-mile oval is a third-place result by Tomas Scheckter in 2005, and the team’s best start is fifth place – Vitor Meira (2006) and Buddy Lazier (2005). The team has collected a total of two Top Five and four Top Ten finishes in seven years of competing at Milwaukee.
SF Giants Fanatic Hildebrand Revels in Matt Cain’s Perfect Game
There is no bigger San Francisco Giants fan than JR Hildebrand, but forgive Panther’s 24-year-old Californian for missing the start of yesterday’s game, even though Matt Cain – one of his favorite players – was scheduled to pitch. Traveling from a test at Iowa to Milwaukee for this weekend’s Milwaukee IndyFest, he got to his hotel room off a late flight and was greeted by a test message from a Bay-area friend:
“Cain’s perfect through eight innings,” the text message read. “You better find a TV.”
Hildebrand, who admits he was almost kicked-out of a Los Angeles bar for celebrating during the NLCS Playoffs in 2010 and – later the same year – went running down the street near his apartment in Indianapolis screaming when the Giants won the World Series, erupted into afrenzy trying to find a place to watch the game.
“It was definitely one of those spaz-out moments,” JR admitted. “I was thinking if this game isn’t on my hotel room TV I’m sprinting to find a bar to see this game. Luckily they had it on ESPN at that point, and it was just a nail-biter. You know how much pressure that is on a pitcher in that moment, but also the entire team – the catcher, anybody in the field in that stadium at that time.”
Cain completed the feat, capturing the first Perfect Game in San Francisco Giants’ history in front of the home crowd at AT&T Park. Hildebrand exchanged text messages with a good friend who was at the game, and couldn’t fathom the atmosphere in a sold-out stadium of nearly 43,000 rabid fans.
“Honestly, I’ve been to plenty of baseball games – and I’m biased – but San Francisco Giants fans are the best in Major League Baseball, and I can only imagine how crazy the atmosphere must have been in that building,” Hildebrand said. “Cain’s been a Giant since he got in the league, just got a mega contract, and then he comes out and delivers. He’s one of those pitchers – like Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee – that in the ninth inning, he looks like he’s in the first – not just by how hard he’s throwing, but just his entire demeanor. He’s a guy you just hope is on the team forever.”
With China Cancelled, Hildebrand Thinks IndyCar Should Go To ….
IndyCar officials announced this week that the scheduled race in China for later in the year has been officially cancelled, opening speculation as to where a replacement event will be held. With the likelihood that the replacement race will become the 2012season finale, many drivers and team officials have listed the tracks they would like to see added to the IndyCar docket. On Thursday, Panther driver JR Hildebrand was asked for his thoughts on both road course and oval track alternatives for the IndyCar Series this season.
“I think the IndyCar Series absolutely needs to stay in North America as we look at replacement races for China,” JR stated. “I certainly understand the benefit of China from the business and sponsor standpoint of expanding the series’ horizons, but it’s certainly been my feeling that IndyCar is the premiere American open-wheel and needs to be successful in America first.”
With speculation centered on the replacement race possibly being an oval, Hildebrand pointed to two former IndyCar staples – Phoenix International Raceway and Pocono Raceway, with Pocono’s recently repaved “Tricky Triangle” as his ultimate preference.
“On the oval side, I think those two tracks (Phoenix & Pocono) would be two good places to go,” Hildebrand said. “I’ve already heard Pocono is off the docket for this year, but that is a place where IndyCar has a lot of history, and now that it’s been repaved it would be mega fast, and I think that it could be a great event for IndyCar.”
If this year’s schedule addition were to be a road course, JR was quick to point to three tracks: Wisconsin’s Road America; Road Atlanta, one of his personal favorites; and Laguna Seca, a track he visited frequently with his father John while growing up in northern California.
“In looking at road courses,” Hildebrand began. “Elkart Lake is a no brainer. I’ve always been a proponent of Road Atlanta – or at least to have somebody go down there and test to check out the safety situation. They run LMP cars there every year, and they’re just as fast as we would go so I think it would be worth looking into. I also think Laguna Seca is a first-class facility and they do well with the MotoGP race every year, and it’s just one of those places that would make sense.”
SGT Jeremy Smith Named Panther’s Milwaukee Hometown Hero:
Panther Racing has named SGT Jeremy Smith, the 2012 Wisconsin National Guard Soldier of the Year, as its honorary HometownHero for the Milwaukee IndyFest weekend. Panther began its Hometown Hero program in 2008 to help highlight an extraordinary Soldier from each respective state’s National Guard. Each hero participates in the IndyCar Series driver autograph session during the race weekend and sits next to Hildebrand whilesigning a specialty-made hero card. The hero also takes an IndyCar Experience two-seater ride, is honored during an awards presentation in the team’s hospitality unit prior to the race and is also recognized on the pre-race stage in front of the crowd prior to the start of the race.
Additional notes on SGT Smith are posted below:
- Enlisted in the Wisconsin National Guard in 2002, and during his 10 years of service in the Guard has received three Military Occupational Specialties (MOS); 11B Infantry, 19D Scout Cavalry and 74D CBRN Specialist.
- Was deployed to Kuwait with CO 2-128th Infantry in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2005-2006.
- Mobilized again in 2009 with Troop B 1-105th Cavalry and was deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, where he conducted base operations and quick action force operation.
- Currently an Active Guard Reserve (AGR) Soldier in a survey team member position with the 54th Civil Support Team in Wisconsin.
- Awards, Decorations and Honors include: Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal (x2), Army Good Conduct Medal and many others.
Race Broadcast Details:
The IZOD IndyCar Series will now travel to the Milwaukee Mile for Milwaukee IndyFest, which will be broadcast live on ABC next Sunday at 1 pm (EST), with additional coverage provided by the IMS Radio Network, XM Channel 94 and Sirius Channel 212. Practice, qualifying and race coverage is also available on the new IndyCar Mobile app from Verizon.
JR Hildebrand, No. 4 National Guard Chevrolet:
”We had a pretty productive test at Iowa, and that was a place where we had a pretty good race car last year and we were just trying to figure out how last year’s setup compared to what’s needed with the new car andengine. So we stuck with our plan and had a good test. And I’m excited to get back to Milwaukee; we didn’t have a great weekend there last year and I feel like we can bounce back from that and really show what we’ve got this time around. With Oriol (Servia) and the Panther/DRR guys along side us this time, we’re going to have more bullets in our chamber and I’m certainly looking forward to working with them this weekend.”