SANTA CLARA – I’m splitting Jim Harbaugh’s Thursday press conference transcript into two parts today, because the first part has nothing to do with football. It’s about Indy car racing. Here it is, courtesy of the 49ers. Enjoy.
“Hello. Doing great. Obviously, great to have the National Guard IndyCar here. Panther Racing, with owner John Barnes and Jane Barnes here. National guardsmen and women here today with us. It’s a real honor and a privilege, and a pleasure to have the Panther team here. Many of the players have commented on the car, [DT] Justin Smith in particular, he likes it. It’s a neat event for us today.”
Are you going to get G Leonard Davis in the cockpit?
“No chance. There is no chance of Leonard Davis sitting in the cockpit of that Indy racing car. He darn near weighs about a third of that car. That car there, weighs about what about 1500 John [Barnes]? 1500 pounds, 700 hundred horsepower in that vehicle and Leonard Davis is close to 350 [lbs].”
Have you driven one of those in the past?
“No, I’ve done the passenger ride along, but I’ve never driven the Indy car.”
How did you get into this stuff, the racing?
“I got into the racing and became affiliated as a part owner with Panther Racing in 1990-well really when I first met John Barnes and the Panther team, was around ’94, ’95 when I first got traded to Indianapolis where I signed with the Colts. Just went out to the track one day and was walking around and met John and his Pennzoil team at that time. They invited me back the next day. Then come to the race, and that kind of thing. The following year, kept in touch. John Barnes spearheaded the Panther Racing Team and the rest has been history. Twenty-eight wins and two championships later, it’s been a great team, a real privilege to be a small part of that team.”
Did you ever have a conversation with Joe Gibbs about racing?
Have you always been a racing fan?
“I’ve been a racing fan since my dad Jack Harbaugh took us kids and the family to a time trial in 1976 and [IndyCar driver] Tom Sneeva broke the 200 mile [per hour] barrier at that time trail. Ever since then I’ve always liked the Indianapolis 500 and the racing. That was the big sporting event that was always on, late May, Memorial Day. Seemed like that was the best thing that was on in May. So I’ll always watch that every year. Then when I went to Chicago to play with the Bears, a good friend of the team there was Cap Boso [Casper Boso], who was from Indianapolis, went to [Bishop] Chatard high school, grew up in Indy. He used to always talk about Indianapolis and how great Indianapolis was. Went back to a couple of the Indy 500’s with Cap and some of his friend, and got to see what Indianapolis was like during the month of May. It was just a month-long ramping up to the Indy 500. It was a spectacular thing. Then to be a part of the team and be in the pits for an Indianapolis 500, I still believe it’s the single-greatest moment in a sporting event that I’ve ever been a fan at or watched, observed, the start of the Indy 500 and pretty much every one of those races. Great privilege to be able to be a part of that and watch it up close. And learn a lot too from the team dynamic at Panther Racing and John Barnes as a leader, how he runs his unit. Carry a lot of that over into coaching and what we do here with the San Francisco 49ers.”
How many speeding tickets have you had in your career?
“Speeding tickets? A few.”
I’m just curious. Sometimes people who like racing like to drive fast.
“I’ve had a few. I don’t know how many exactly, I don’t think too many lately though. I’m matured.”
Do you go back every year?
“Not every year. It’s been – I think it’s been two since [wife] Sarah [Harbaugh] and I have been back there. For a while there, had a long streak of being back there for the Indy 500, but haven’t made it back for a year or two.”
As a coach could you comment on how the pit crew, they all seem to kind of work in concert?
“Like a team! The team, the team, the team! There’s no question that’s exactly how they operate. They operate as a strong, united team. They’re well drilled. They’re in great shape. That whole dynamic-whether it’s the pit crew, or the engineering of the car, the mechanics, the testing that the team does, the aerodynamics-everything about that operation is designed to get a mile an hour faster. That’s just one thing that’s been so profound to me, watching that. The way they chase that speed. The way they chase that point-zero-one percent improvement. That tenth of a mile an hour faster. That’s been profound. I’ve really learned great lessons from that. We really attempt to do that here. That’s one of our primary goals. How can we get better? What facet of what do, can we tweak and try to get a little faster? Where can we reduce drag? Where can we save time? Where can we be more efficient? Really, that’s that whole operation. That’s the whole operation of racing and they do it as a team. Everybody doing a little, it adds up to a lot. That concept is there. We win as a team and that’s the way we approach things here with at 49ers.”
Did you have a say in the Panther Racing number 4, as it was your jersey number when you were playing?
“No, I didn’t have a say in that. But that was just something that the team, I felt honored by and they honored me by putting that number on there. That was a really neat thing, a gift that [Panther Racing owner] John Barnes and the team gave and I’m very proud that that’s the number.”
Did you grimace, I guess with all of us, when the team was a quarter or a lap from winning the Indy 500 a couple of years ago?
“That was a tough break. And [Panther Indy car drive] J.R. [Hildebrand] made the decision that only these guys can make. I don’t know the hundredths of seconds that they have to make decisions, but there’s nobody better in the world that these racecar drivers in making quick decisions. They’re really like modern day gun fighters when you watch them up close and all that they have to do in the cockpit and behind the wheel of that car. It was just a tough break. But just forever proud of the team and that the team was in that position that they were in at that part of the race. They’re always fighting. They’re always climbing. They’re always doing a tremendous job and it’s really about the people that they have working in the organization and the leader, John Barnes. Just proud and now we’ll move on and be excited for the fellas this week when they race up in Sonoma.”