By Bert Beiswanger
Based on the hearty handshake San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh gave me after taking a few minutes to talk at Carb Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a few things were immediately apparent to me:
1). I felt more respect from Harbaugh than Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz probably does – no handshake problems here.
2). Second, the opportunity to drive the ceremonial Indy 500 pace car is something Harbaugh is cherishing.
Harbaugh was like a kid in a candy store, soaking up the moment for all its worth. After getting some practice laps in the Corvette Stingray with driving coach and offical pace car driver Johnny Rutherford, he soaked in the atmosphere of the day.
The founding partner of Panther racing is enjoying the weekend on muliple levels. After pacing the field for the ceremonial laps Sunday, Harbaugh will be watch closely as Panther’s J.R. Hildebrand (No. 4 National Guard car) and Townsend Bell (No. 60 Sunoco car) try to bring home the team’s first Indy 500 win.
“It’s just fantastic'” Harbaugh said. “It’s great to be back here and watch the team, watch our drivers and some of the youngsters, too. Ed Carpenter, I knew him when he was a child; same with Conor Daly. To see those two guys out here doing what they’re doing, it’s just wonderful.”
So, what’s it feel like to be driving the pace car at Indy?:
“Well, it’s like, ‘How’d you get so lucky?’ I’m just lucky, I guess. I was thrilled when they told me they were considering me. To be able to do it; I’m really thrilled to do it. It’s going to be one of life’s memorable moments. I need some work, though.”
But Harbaugh has the benefit of being coached by three-time Indy 500 winner Johnny Rutherford:
“I got that going for me. Mr. Rutherford took me around the track this morning and showed me how to do it. Then he let me do it for four or five laps. I need some work, but I’ll get it down with him in my corner.”
Do you ever get tired of seeing the number four on the side of and Indy car?:
“Not at all. That’s a wonderful sight. J.R. (Hildebrand) looked really quick this morning. Everybody’s excited; John Barnes and the whole Panther team. They’ve done such a phenomenal job here. You expect continued success.”