National Guard Panther Racing driver JR Hildebrand burst onto the open-wheel racing scene with a dramatic runner-up finish in 100th Anniversary of the Indianapolis 500, an effort that earned him Rookie of the Year honors. Hildebrand suffered a torn ACL in his left knee at an off-track event just a week later, but the 24-year-old still finished strong in his rookie season - leading three races and collecting two Top Five and five Top Ten finishes. His best finish outside of the '500' was a fourth-place finish at Iowa Speedway and he collected his best non-oval result with a seventh-place finish at Twin Ring Motegi.
At the end of the year, Panther announced it had exercised a two-year option in Hildebrand's contract that will keep the Californian in the team's No. 4 Chevrolet through the 2013 IndyCar Series season.
Hildebrand was the Firestone Indy Lights champion in 2009 while driving for Andretti Autosport and made his IZOD IndyCar Series debut in 2010 with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing - setting the fastest lap of the race at Infineon Raceway in just his second career start. In December of that year, he participated in a driver evaluation test at Phoenix International Raceway for Panther, and his performance was so impressive the team executed a contract with the then-rookie driver immediately following the conclusion of the test.
Hildebrand climbed the open-wheel racing ladder quickly after he began karting in 2002; winning the SCCA Formula Russell championship in 2004 and the Formula Ford 2000 championship in 2006 with an astounding 12 victories in the series' 14 races. It was then that Hildebrand moved up to Firestone Indy Lights, where in just over two years of participation he collected a championship, eight victories and 19 Top Five finishes.
The Sausalito, California native attended Redwood High School, whose alumni include comedian Robin Williams and current Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll. Hildebrand was a varsity baseball player in high school and remains a die-hard San Francisco Giants fan. Panther Racing co-owner, and San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, invited Hildebrand out to 49ers training camp to spend a day with the team in August while Panther was in town for a race at Infineon Raceway. A lover of classic cars, he was shocked in July when Panther managing Partner John Barnes surprised him with a gift: a 1966 Chevelle SS - which had been Hildebrand's dream car since he was a kid - for his performance in the Indianapolis 500.
He was accepted to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), after graduating from high school as a National Merit Scholar with a 4.12 GPA, but deferred his acceptance to pursue a career in open-wheel racing.