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Apr 02, 2013 - 09:56 PM
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Panther Rolls Into Barber Motorsports Park Eyeing Strong IndyCar Result
Posted by: newsla on Apr 02, 2013 - 09:55 PM
IndyCar News
Panther Rolls Into Barber Motorsports Park Eyeing Strong IndyCar Result

After an early exit in the IndyCar Series season opener on the Streets of St. Petersburg, JR Hildebrand and the National Guard Panther Racing team are prepared to tackle the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama this Sunday afternoon at Barber Motorsports Park. The team tested at Barber just three weeks ago on the 17-turn, 2.38-mile permanent road course, and with track times exceeded previous speed records, Hildebrand is excited to get back on the track thisweekend.


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Hildebrand had his best non-oval qualifying effort at Barber last year, pushing the team into the Firestone Fast Six and getting the No. 4 National Guard car into the 5th place startingposition before eventually finishing 15th in the race after contact in the closing laps. After a successful qualifying effort in 2012 and a successful open test, Hildebrand and the Panther team are hoping to carry some momentum into this weekend’s race.

Additional news and notes are posted below:

Medal of Honor Recipient Leo Thorsness to Appear at Barber:
Medal of Honor Recipient Leo Thorsness is scheduled to appear this weekend as a guest speaker during Panther Racing’s “Operation: Hire Our Guard” presentation. Thorsness was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty for his actions over North Vietnam on April 19th, 1967.

Thorsness, along with several other Medal of Honor Recipients, have been an instrumental part of Panther’s program to fight Veteran unemployment. Last week in St. Petersburg Medal of Honor recipient Gary Littrell was the honorary speaker during the “Operation: Hire Our Guard” program and both men were amongst the 10 Medal of Honor recipients that were guests of Panther during the Indy 500 last May. The team plans to bring in another large group of Medal of Honor recipients for the Indianapolis 500 weekend this year as well to help raise awareness and educate potential employers about Veteran unemployment.

As a pilot of an F-105, Lt. Col. Thorsness was on a surface-to-air suppression mission over North Vietnam when he and his wingman attacked and silenced two surface-to-air missile sites before Lt. Col. Thorsness’ wingman was shot down by intensive anti-aircraft fire, forcing the two crewmembers to abandon their aircraft. Thorsness circled the descendingparachutes and spotted a MIG-17 in the area, and initiated an attack and destroyed the MIG-17. Though Lt. Col. Thorsness was critically low on fuel, he returned to the site of the downed crew and spotted four MIG-17 aircraft circling the two crewmembers, initiated an attack on the MIGs and damaged one aircraft while driving the others away.

Operation: Hire Our Guard Program Scheduled Sunday:
This weekend at 11:45am Panther will conduct its “Operation: Hire Our Guard” program in the team’s hospitality area at Barber Motorsports Park. For a full round-up of Panther’s employment program from the last race in St. Petersburg, including video, photo galleries and interviews with business leaders and military leadership who attended, read our Interactive Magazine HERE: http://panther.interactmag.com/30/St-Petersburg/

Operation: Hire Our Guard is a Panther Racing initiative to raise awareness and educate business leaders around the country about the increasing unemployment crisis facing our National Guard, with the ultimate goal of making the connections necessary between the military and business leaders to secure quality employment for National Guard Soldiers. Unemployment is the No. 1 issue facing returning and demobilizing National Guard members and their families. Overall unemployment is 13% - as high as 30% for Veterans between 18-30 – and, in total, there are currently 65,000 unemployed National Guard members. These goals will be accomplished through at-track programs during IndyCar Series race weekends, off-site and employer-outreach programs in states where IndyCar does not race and through nationwide promotional efforts.

Last year Panther’s events provided Veterans exposure to approximately 9,300 job opportunities and based on a conservative approach, potentially over 4,300 Guardsmen have been employed as a result of our program. While our employment program is a small dent in the 65,000 estimated unemployed Guardsmen, our efforts will increase in 2013 as our partnerships and program grow.

RACE REWIND: Great Start at Barber Doesn’t Pan Out for Panther in 2012:
After Hildebrand’s best non-oval qualifying effort at the time, he and the No. 4 National Guard Panther team started the race in 5th position. The team made its first pit stop on Lap 19 and Hildebrand returned to the field in ninth position and outpaced Team Penskedriver Ryan Briscoe for the rest of the second stint. As the final laps ticked down Hildebrand was in 13th and entering the final turn his car was bumped twice by Briscoe, which allowed two cars to pass and pushed Hildebrand to 15th.

Additional notes on Panther Racing at Barber Motorsports Park:
• In three starts at Barber, Panther drivers have completed 270 of a possible 270 laps.
• Hildebrand’s fifth-place start in 2012 was the first time he had either advanced to the second round of qualifications or the Firestone Fast Six.
• Panther’s best finish at Barber was an 11th-place result with Dan Wheldon in 2010, the team’s first start at the Birmingham racetrack.
• Sunday will mark Hildebrand’s 36th career IndyCar Series start, 34 of which will be behind the wheel of the No. 4 National Guard car. Hildebrand made two starts with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in 2010. This will be his third start at Barber.

SPC John Washington Swails Named Panther’s Alabama Hometown Hero:
Panther Racing has named John Washington Swails as its honorary Hometown Hero for the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama weekend. Panther began its Hometown Hero program in 2008 to help highlight an extraordinary Soldier from each respective state’s National Guard. Each hero participates in the IndyCar Series driver autograph session during the raceweekend and sits next to Hildebrand while signing a specialty-made hero card. The hero also takes an IndyCar Experience two-seater ride, is honored during an awards presentation in the team’s hospitality unit prior to the race and is also recognized on the pre-race stage in front of the crowd prior to the start of the race.

Additional notes on SPC Swails are posted below:
• SPC Swails was recruited by the 20th Special Forces Group, Alabama Army National Guard to serve as a crypto-linguist in 2011.
• SPC Swails received a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Oral Roberts University (studied German, French, and Hebrew).
• SPC Swails was an AP award-winning journalist and writer covering topics in criminal investigation, human interest and current affairs in the US, Europe, and the Middle East.
• SPC Swails is a recent graduate of the Cryptologic Linguist Course, Basic Airborne Course, and Air Assault Course.

JR Hildebrand, No. 4 National Guard Chevrolet:
“I’m really looking forward to getting back in the No. 4 National Guard car thisweekend down at Barber. The track was super fast at the test we had a few weeks ago, which is what IndyCar racing should be all about. The car ran great during the test and we were really quick at Barber last year in qualifying, so hopefully we can keep that momentum up. I’m pumped to get back down there.”

Broadcast Info:
The Indy Grand Prix of Alabama will be held on April 5th and broadcast live on NBC Sports Network at 3:00 pm (ET), with additional coverage provided by the IMS Radio Network, XM/Sirius Channel 211. Practice, qualifying and race coverage is also available on the IndyCar Mobile app from Verizon.

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