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49ers coach Jim Harbaugh among owners on IndyCar racing team
Jim Harbaugh
There's a reason Panther Racing's car number is 4. That was the uniform number of Jim Harbaugh, one of the team's founding owners, throughout most of his NFL career.

Harbaugh is still part of the IndyCar Series team's ownership group, but he has been a little preoccupied lately as the 49ers' new head coach. In fact, he won't be able to attend Sunday's Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma. (He'll be busy dissecting game film from Saturday's exhibition game against Houston.)

So first-year driver JR Hildebrand came down to the 49ers' training facility Wednesday to be introduced to one of his bosses.

"Glad to finally meet you," Harbaugh told him as they shook hands. "How's the knee?"

Hildebrand recently tore a left knee ligament.

"It's cool to meet him on his turf," Hildebrand said later. "I'm new to the team, and with his transition from Stanford to the Niners, we just haven't made contact. So I hadn't gotten the pep talk yet."

Harbaugh caught the racing bug while playing for the Indianapolis Colts and joined the race team when it was formed in 1997. Harbaugh was a regular presence around the team's Indianapolis garage and sometimes even worked with the pit crew on race days.

"But once he got into coaching, we haven't seen as much of him because he's so busy," said Mike Kitchel, the team's public relations director.

Harbaugh has described the Indianapolis 500 as "better than Christmas." But he was absent from this year's race and missed seeing Hildebrand come within a last-turn crash of winning the famous event.

"I know he must be working hard to get this team ready," Kitchel added of the 49ers, "because Jim is in love with the Indy 500." Mercury News

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