May 22, 2013, 1:30 PM EDT
San Francisco 49ers head coach and Panther Racing co-owner Jim Harbaugh will drive the 2014 Chevy Corvette Stingray pace car and lead the field of 33 to the green flag at Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.
Harbaugh, who led the 49ers to last year’s NFC Championship and an appearance in Super Bowl XLVII, is a founding partner for Panther, the two-time IZOD IndyCar Series champions and a perennial threat at the Brickyard with four runner-up finishes in the last five “500s.”
“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 in a release from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “Doing it in the all-new 2014 Corvette Stingray makes it even better. It’s an iconic car leading an iconic race.”
Harbaugh is a well-known figure in Indianapolis thanks to a memorable run in the mid-1990s as quarterback of the Colts. According to the team, he first met Panther managing partner John Barnes shortly after he signed with the Colts in 1994. When Panther started racing in 1997, Harbaugh joined in as a partner.
To this day, Panther has run the No. 4 as a nod to the jersey he wore for the Colts and for the majority of his playing career. The coach and the team maintain a close relationship; last year, Harbaugh hosted Barnes, Panther driver J.R. Hildebrand and soldiers from the California National Guard on a visit to the Niners’ practice facility, and at the IndyCar race in Sonoma, California, Hildebrand ran a 49ers-themed paint job on his No. 4 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 in a Panther release. “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.”
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