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From my (Jake Query) IMS Radio perch atop the Northeast Vista, I’ve seen ya. I’ve seen ya pulling names from a hat and the driver’s name you  pull end up being your favorite for the next 500 miles.

So, for the 33 days leading up to the race, I figured I’d let ya know more about the PEOPLE in the cockpit or the people you may end up rooting for when you pull a name out of a hat. A couple things you might want to know about these drivers is…

  • Who shares YOUR passion?
  • Who likes YOUR favorite musician?
  • Whose story strikes a chord that connects beyond the strip of paper you pulled from the hat?

Strap in. Ride along for 33 days of “Get to know”.

J.R. Hildebrand – A.J. Foyt Racing – Car #11

All You Need To Know About J.R. Hildebrand.

I’ve tried every which way but loose. Over the last 11 years, I’ve lightly approached it, asked it bluntly, worked it into a metaphor, steered the conversation directly there.

Every time I hit a wall.

No matter how many times I’ve tried, I’ve never gotten J.R. Hildrbrand to crack when asked about the 800th turn of the 2011 Indy 500.

 No matter many angles from which I’ve worked it , the guy from Sausalito, California doesn’t budge. He always has the right answer- always sounds like a guy grateful to have been one clean turn from winning the Indy 500. He always sounds like a guy comfortable to say, on that day, the track didn’t choose him.

Maybe he’s comfortable knowing when he drifted his Panther Racing National Guard car too high, it was its former pilot, Dan Wheldon that sailed to the checkers.

Or maybe he’s just comfortable with himself.

It’s possible J.R. Hildebrand reflects on it when he has time to think to himself. Like last May, when he drove 1100 miles from

his Colorado home to Indianapolis to embark on his 11th Indy 500.

He had all the time in the world to think inside

of his pink 1960 Cadillac Coupe De Ville. Only, unlike that fateful 2011 “500” of his rookie year, Hildebrand didn’t make it 499 miles

before disaster. He limped into Goodland, Kansas with engine issues just 218 miles into the trip.

He found a mechanic, replaced the alternator, and soon, just like the heartache of a decade before, Goodland was in his rear view mirror.

That’s the funny thing about J.R. Hildebrand. He doesn’t get deep in thought about things on which the rest of us dwell. He’s got other things on his mind.  Like numbers and formulas. It’s what drew him to racing in the first place. Math & Science. He loved the math of the mileage, the science of the engineering.

Those interests led him to M.I.T.- the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He was admitted to the prestigous enginnering school, but opted to defer the admission.

 “I was in the middle of my motorsports career, driving in the Indy 500, when, after four years I think they realized ‘you’re probably not coming next year either’.”, he tells me.

 The assumption was correct.

That’s not to say Hildebrand doesn’t occasionally scratch his itch from the world of academia. When he’s not mountain biking or tinkering with one of his seven cars, he serves as an adjunct lecturer at Stanford University’s autonomous vehicle dynamics program.

An avid fan of the San Francisco Giants, he attended his first concert when KC and the Sunshine Band played before a game at Candlestick Park. These days, he prefers his favorite artist, ‘Rage against the Machine’.

No mater how hard I’ve tried, I’ve never gotten him to blame his machine for sending him into the Turn 4 wall. He harbors no ill will, exhibits no rage.

Like his 1100 mile journey in a 60 year old Cadillac, J.R. Hildebrand is enjoying the ride.

 Comfortable with the detours along the way.

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