JR Hildebrand’s self-described “first call to the big leagues” in 2010 was for two races with Dennis Reinbold in place of an injured Mike Conway. Eight years later, Hildebrand is back with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in the team’s second Chevy-powered Indy 500 entry – a deal the two sides have talked about several times before.
“There have been a bunch of different times where Dennis and I have been talking about doing this in the past,” said Hildebrand, who will attempt to qualify for his eighth straight Indy 500 in a car sponsored by SalesForce, an American cloud computing company based in San Francisco with its second-largest employee base in Indianapolis. “I’m just really excited to be back.
“My first call to the big leagues was from Dennis. We’ve obviously been in the same Chevy camp over the last few years out at Indy. We were always really impressed with the speed, just performance of the guys at Dreyer.
“When I started working on getting this year figured out, it was an obvious phone call to make from my side.”
With Hildebrand and Sage Karam, DRR is back to a multi-car Indy 500 program for the first time since 2011, when its four-car team featured Justin Wilson, Ana Beatriz, Davey Hamilton and Paul Tracy. The team, which has entered and qualified 37 cars in the 500 since 1999, has been taking necessary steps to upgrade to IndyCar’s universal aero kit as well as equipment for a second car.
“We went out and over the offseason made the decision to ramp up our efforts to get two additional cars, so we have three total in our stable that we are able to run, so a backup car along with our 24 car primary and 66 car primary,” Reinbold said.
“Expanding from one car to two cars to run, I mean, you’re talking about additional pit equipment, you’re talking about additional wheel guns, radios, all kinds of things that you wouldn’t necessarily think of right off the top of your head.
“So there’s a lot to it. We’ve been working pretty much all offseason on acquiring equipment and putting things together. Both of our cars have been painted at this stage, so I’m pretty excited about that. That always kind of indicates you’re getting ready to start the road to the Speedway.”
Hildebrand will drive the No. 66 Chevy, a number he requested.
“I’ve run 66 a handful of times throughout my career,” he explained. “But even when I was a little kid racing go-karts, it was the first number that I kind of became enamored with from going to vintage races, seeing the Jim Hall’s Chaparral. From me, it’s the origination of why I’ve always liked the number.
“Then obviously get to know over the years a little bit more about Indy history, Mark Donohue was obviously from a distance not sort of overlapping, but just reading The Unfair Advantage when I was a kid was really impactful for me. To know that was his Indy 500 winning number in 1972 has cemented 66 in my mind as one of the most awesome numbers you can run out there.
“We’ll have a little fun with it later on. But even the design choice for the number that we’re going to run on the car this year has a little bit of a backstory to it. I decided it would be almost like sacrilege to use the Route 66 or the iconic Penske Donohue 66, but we found a new one to run which has a fun story.”
As Hildebrand is the 34th confirmed 500 entry – a deal for James Davison and Byrd Racing in an A.J. Foyt Racing entry is expected to raise the entry count to 35 – bumping will return for the first time in several years. It’s a mix of excitement and stress for the 30-year-old.
“I think I can speak for our deal coming together, how seamless it sort of was, how excited everybody is to get involved, certainly get the feeling being a part of it, being a part of the series, that it’s trending the right way. I’m looking forward to a little bit – as if qualifying isn’t stressful enough, a little bit of extra tension built in, which ought to be fun. You can always feel that in the air on Pole Day. We’ll see how it all shakes out.”