Winning titles nothing new for Panther Racing's NFL connection
Jim Harbaugh may be in search of his first NFL championship, but the San Francisco 49ers coach has already won three INDYCAR championships as co-owner of Panther Racing.
Panther Racing won the IZOD IndyCar Series titles with Sam Hornish Jr. in 2001 and 2002 and the Firestone Indy Lights title in 2003 with Mark Taylor. All three title-winning cars carried the No. 4, the same number Harbaugh wore when he was quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts.
"Jim has always been a tremendous leader and I've said several times he's the ultimate warrior," Panther Racing team managing partner John Barnes said. "I can't think of another family that deserves this honor as much as the Harbaughs - Jim, John and (father) Jack have all been big mentors of mine for a long time.
Harbaugh, 49, is in his third season as coach of the 49ers, who lost to the New York Giants in the 2012 NFC Championship Game. He became involved with Panther Racing after meeting Barnes on a visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
After helping form the team, Harbaugh worked with the pit crew during IZOD IndyCar Series races and was an integral member of the team in its early years, serving duties such as sign-board man at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and holding the stop-sign board for pit stops. He also would do tasks such as serving as a tire runner or drink bottle guy for the team.
"Jim sometimes jokes about not being as involved in Panther Racing as he was in the early days, but we learn a heck of a lot from how he coaches his team, and the leadership he shows with the 49ers has an impact on a lot of what we do here," Barnes said. "
Harbaugh has stated on multiple occasions that the start of the Indy 500 is the "single greatest moment in all of sports" and that the race is "better than Christmas."
A Panther Racing driver has been runner-up in the 500 Mile Race four of the past five years. His Indianapolis-based teammates hope he's not the runner-up in the NFL's big game.
"He challenges his players by being the example that they should achieve, and we're going to be behind him 100 percent at the Super Bowl," Barnes said.