If you're watching the Indy 500 this Sunday, and you're a hardcore pro football fan, your worlds will intersect in ways you did not expect. San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh will be driving the pace car -- a 2014 Corvette Stingray -- this year at the legendary race.
"I'm awaiting my coaching and instructions, and then ready for practice,'' Harbaugh said at the team's OTAs on Wednesday.
Harbaugh has a lot of history with the area, and with racing in general. The 14-year NFL quarterback played for the Indianapolis Colts from 1994 through 1997 (when he was replaced by that Peyton Manning guy), and his name is in the team's Ring of Honor. He's also a part owner of Indy-based Panther Racing, which has two drivers in this year's race -- JR Hildebrand, who starts 10th, and Townsend Bell, who starts 22nd. Last September, Harbaugh had an Indy race car parked near the practice fields at the team's headquarters in Santa Clara.
Harbaugh is also well aware of the history behind Indy 500 pace car drivers, and he's eager to live up to the legends.
"As the No. 1 fan of the Rockford Files, to follow in the footsteps of James Garner, who did it three times, and also Morgan Freeman, and Colin Powell, and Chuck Yeager and so many others, it's just a real honor and a privilege,'' he said. "I'm going to do my best to do a great job at it.''
The coach is still concerned with football, especially the fact that he lost receiver Michael Crabtree to an Achilles' tendon injury for an unknown stretch of time, but that doesn't mean that he isn't jazzed about his new role.
"I was really excited just even being considered when they told me that they were considering me. To actually be doing it, I've already had a couple of dreams about it. I know I'm going to be excited and nervous. I'm anticipating getting there and getting some practice in for it.''
“It’s great to have a true racing fan like Jim Harbaugh drive the Corvette Pace Car,” said Jim Campbell, U.S. vice president of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports, said in an official release. “He personifies the Indianapolis 500’s spirit of competition – and he’s a true athlete, just like the all-new Corvette Stingray.”
Ah, yes. The 2014 Stingray will be promoted heavily, but Harbaugh doesn't expect to return to San Francisco with the car he'll be driving.
"That car goes to the winner of the race,'' he said. "The winner of the race is always awarded the pace car at the Indy 500.''