May 25, 2013 | By Paul Kelly
97th Indianapolis 500 Press Conference - Jim Harbaugh
MODERATOR: Welcome to the Economaki Press Conference Room. It's great to have a gentleman who has deep roots in Indianapolis, both as a football player, obviously a principal with one of our racing teams, will be driving the Pace Car. Ever since Ted Marchibroda told him to let it rip, that's exactly what he did. And we're delighted to have you here with us, Jim. It must be exciting to drive the Pace Car.
JIM HARBAUGH: I am thrilled to even be considered to drive the Pace Car and to actually be driving it, I count that as one of the great memories of my life, as long as I don't screw it up. (Laughter)
Then it won't be a great memory. But thanks for coming out to this morning.
MODERATOR: Our race will be better if it has less yellow flags. We're just kind of curious whether or not you're still waiting in the waning moments of the Super Bowl.
HARBAUGH: Yeah, I was. I definitely was. You brought up a very bitter feeling that I have about that and probably always will.
MODERATOR: How about some questions for Jim right off the bat.
Q: Coach, I mean, what really got the blood pumping when you went through the training for the Pace Car drive and, of course, you know that there has been incidents in Pace Cars here over the years?
HARBAUGH: Yes. At first, I mean, first time I went around, I knew I had more work to do. And Johnny Rutherford has been coaching me up. My confidence grew a lot once I got more practice yesterday afternoon, and looking forward to going out again this afternoon and nailing it and getting the confidence where I know I can do it.
Q: Just to follow up, when you're in charge of your team, you can tell them what to do. If you mess up, there's 33 guys behind you that want to talk to you afterward.
HARBAUGH: That's the thing; I don't want to screw it up. Just the way I feel about it, kind of like coaching, you're not feeling good until it's over and you've done a good job. So I'll have a lot of focus and concentration to make sure that I don't screw it up.
MODERATOR: Rewinding the clock, how did we get you involved so early? I know you have the relationship with John Barnes and Panther early on, and you've been a great supporter. What was the attraction for you?
HARBAUGH: I love the support. I love the competition. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the greatest racing track that there is, you just love everything about it. There's nothing you don't love about it. So many things in terms of the tradition, you know, the people, the sport itself. The fact that they drink milk afterward. It's the trophy -- it is the best trophy there is in sports. Just there's so many things. The athletes that drive these cars -- I mean, the myth that these guys aren't athletes is just so far from the truth. It's to the point where you don't know how they do what they do. It doesn't seem doable what these guys do in a race car.
Q: Coach, can you talk a little bit about the parallels between a Super Bowl and the Super Bowl of auto racing?
HARBAUGH: Yes. I mean, it's one of life's real memories, memorable moments, great achievements to be competing in this race, the Super Bowl of racing, just like it is to get to that big game in football. The success, the training, the winning that you have to do to put yourself in a position to compete in this event, you know, is great tribute to the competitors and the teams that are here.
And the best of the best competing against each other, I mean, everybody wants to see that. That's what, you know, people in America want to see. They want to see the best compete and to see who the very best is. And that's what the teams and the competitors -- they want to be measured at that standard.
Q: Coach, thanks for taking our questions. I have one -- I have two, but one just give me a "no" and we'll move on. Did you happen to watch the Indy Lights race yesterday?
Q: Can I ask you what your thinking is about driving the Pace Car after you saw that last lap? Comment on that, please.
HARBAUGH: Well, Johnny Rutherford will be driving the Pace Car during the race, and I will be driving it to start the race. My thoughts were this could be the greatest “500” of all time. Every year you think maybe you've seen something or seen it all, but this has already started off being the greatest “500” weekend ever. I mean, that race, three-wide in the last turn and then four-wide along the straightaway, I don't think anybody has ever seen that here. So that was quite a sight to see.
Q: Do you have any personal remembrances of Indy 500s past that you have attended or seen on TV that you want to share?
HARBAUGH: Yes. I mean great moments is a part of Panther Racing since 1997, the fact that Panther has finished second four out of the last five years. But Scott Goodyear, his efforts here; Sam Hornish Jr.; even the year where he had tire trouble, and then just the way he fought to get back into the race and competed even though he was four or five laps off the lead.
You know, to JR (Hildebrand) just a couple years ago; Dan Wheldon, his second-place finish here. And just the association with Dan Wheldon, just a great gift of personality and a true gentleman and a great race car driver, a fine person, somebody that you just truly respected. And the association that our team had with him is unforgettable. Just like all the memories that you have anytime you come to, you know, the Speedway.
And also, listening to the stories, you know, of fans that have been to races and their remembrances or favorite stories or the drivers, listening to Johnny Rutherford yesterday talking about going up over Tom Sneva's car, you know, and under another car, onto the wall, leaving a tread, and then back onto the track. That kind of stuff, you just hang on every word of those kind of stories. So, so many things.
Q: Jim, I'm from Oakland, I'm curious how you actually got started --
HARBAUGH: We met earlier.
Q: Yes, we did. How you got involved with Panther Racing?
HARBAUGH: When I was playing with the Indianapolis Colts in '94, I just came out to the track during the month of May and was just wandering around watching and talking to people and going by the garage and just interested in how the whole team worked. And then through friendship with Gary Pedigo, who is a real close friend when I was playing here in Indianapolis, met John Barnes with Doug Boles and Terry Lingner, Mike Griffin, Gary Pedigo, myself, we formed a team, Panther Racing. And really coming to the track, meeting John Barnes, Also the friendship with Gary Pedigo, and then let's form a team was their idea. And the rest is history. We've had a lot of great fun and success, two championships and the second-place finishes and then hopefully, you know, this year a Indy 500 championship.
Q: Jim, you are not only the most winningest coach, active coach, but I think one of the most charismatic persons, so we appreciate what you completed, what you did achieve on and off the field.
Would you share some thoughts -- one of my colleagues has asked about the Super Bowl, the competition of the Super Bowl and winning the Indy 500. You were so close winning the Super Bowl, and getting to the Super Bowl. How you can take the benefit and the experience from the Indy 500 to re-energize your team, motivate the team probably next year to get a game and making a long run in the playoffs?
HARBAUGH: Well, getting to the Super Bowl and competing in that game, as we said, is one of life's great achievements, but losing is also one of life's bitter disappointments and one you're going to remember forever.
But, also, the fact that our team has been in big games, won big games, won playoff games, and also had some tough defeats, all those things kind of go into shaping who you are as a football team and your experiences, and it motivates you. You know, just the fact that JR Hildebrand came out and met with our players last fall was a big thrill before the Infineon race. Several of our players now have really followed racing and JR. Aldon Smith is coming to the race this weekend. So, you know, the parallels are that they're both really team sports. You know, everybody does their part, does a little, and it adds up to be a lot. You realize that you win as a team, you know, the team that performs best as a team has the best chance of winning. And I believe that to be the case in football and racing: Even though it's one guy is the driver, and he's the greatest share of what's going on on Race Day, there is a team that's supporting him behind him, and it's a great example of teamwork and team effort.
MODERATOR: Other questions for Coach?
Q: I am a reporter from the Indianapolis Star. I wonder what you like to do when you come to Indianapolis other than come to the track?
HARBAUGH: When I come to Indianapolis, what I like to do?
Q: What are the things you do outside of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?
HARBAUGH: Well, I come here for the Combine every year for eight days, and basically I just go to the Combine. You know, when I come here to Indianapolis for the Indy 500, it's just Indy 500 things.
Q: Do you have some sort of restaurant you like to go to, a sort of place in Indianapolis you like to spend time?
HARBAUGH: No. I like to go to the Cracker Barrel (Laughter) because there are no Cracker Barrels in California. So that's the one thing that I really -- California does not have a Cracker Barrel. I live by Eagle Creek when I lived here in town, over off of 38th Street there was a great Cracker -- I ate there four days a week, so I really miss it. (Laughter)
And I buy my pants here. Every year I buy my clothes for the year. Also, on 38th Street, the Wal-Mart over there, Dickies khakis. I just like getting them here in Indianapolis. And Dickies, the working man's khaki; I like it. And when I come to the Combine, I always stop there and get a few extra sets.
Q: Hi, Jim. Chicago Sun Times. Do you ever see your brother maybe getting involved in racing? And do you have a favorite Chevrolet or memory of a Chevrolet that you think about -- obviously the association here and the Pace Car and the team and so forth? Just wondering if you had a favorite Chevrolet that you think about or wish you had still or something like that?
HARBAUGH: I drive a Chevy Silverado. I've had that since 2005 when I started coaching at USD. I thought every coach should have a pickup truck, and we've had a lot of wins with that truck, so I don't change that one. That's my favorite, favorite Chevrolet.
And that's been our motor here most of the time with Panther Racing, most of the years. Most of the teams have driven the Chevy motor.
And what was the first part of the question?
Q: Do you ever see your brother getting involved in racing?
HARBAUGH: Oh, John. He's come here to the ‘500’ before. He really liked it. I don't know if he'll get involved. You know, once you -- I was lucky. When you're a player you have a little more time to do things in the offseason. Coaching is just, you get pretty much immersed in it full year-round. So, yeah, I think he's pretty much coaching.
MODERATOR: There is going to be a photo op after the conference outside. Coach has a lot of things to do; we'll take one more question.
Q: Drew here at the ABC in Evansville, Indiana. I wanted to ask you about how you would describe your feeling walking into this track when you've been away from this track for a while. You've been in some incredible venues playing football and just, you know, you have so much time devoted to preparation for what you do for your career now. But after you've been away from this place for a while and then you come back, what's going through your mind when you initially walk into this racetrack?
HARBAUGH: Stick with memories, almost like you have to brush them away. And I'm sure everybody feels that way. I mean, another great memory I have is when I was coaching at USD and our team was playing Butler. We came to Indianapolis the day before the game, and we had it all set up to where the team would eat its pre-game meal here at the hotel. And, also, we got in our team bus and was able to take the team around the track, and that was a big thrill for all of us and those youngsters.
We played the game the next day, and we got down 12 to nothing right off the start. I was like, ‘Damn, why did we do that?’ We should have been focused on the game. But we eventually won the game, and a lot of the players still comment about that, what a neat thrill that was. That was one of the things I thought of when I walked in yesterday, you know, that memory came back.
MODERATOR: That's excellent. Thank you very much for taking time with us, Coach.
HARBAUGH: My pleasure. (Applause)