About Panther Racing
The sport of auto racing is a complex mix of moving parts, personalities, danger, heartbreak and triumph that culminates to provide one of the most thrilling sports on the planet. Through 100 years of history at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500, open-wheel racing has long been one of the fastest, most innovative and celebrated forms of motorsport in the world’s history. And for the last 15 years, Panther Racing has been privileged to be a small part of that history.
Humble beginnings with driver Scott Goodyear and a staff of fewer than 20 quickly evolved into a motorsports dynasty with Sam Hornish Jr. in the early part of this decade. Led by lifelong racer John Barnes, Panther has overcome its obstacles, remained true to its character, and survived lean years to bounce back to finish runner-up in the Indianapolis 500 for a record three consecutive years. In 2012, the team returns with continued support from the National Guard and its more than 470,000 Citizen Soldiers and a fresh young American driver - rookie JR Hildebrand, the 2009 Firestone Indy Lights Champion and one of the sport's brightest young talents.
Beyond its elaborate trophy case, Panther is more than a championship-winning race team. The team takes pride in much more than it on-track product; honoring the soldiers of the National Guard, opening its doors to fans, celebrating and being a small part of Indianapolis 500 history, and always making more with less. This season, Panther celebrates its heritage, while gearing up for its most anticipated race season in history.
Most Memorable Moments in Panther History:
1. 2002 Championship, Panther Beats Penske by a Nose for League Crown
Panther battles Team Penske wire-to-wire for the 2002 IndyCar Series Championship, which culminated in a wheel-to-wheel battle at Texas Motor Speedway between Panther’s Sam Hornish Jr. and two-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves. The two drivers highlighted one of the league’s best seasons with a breathtaking side-by-side duel that saw Hornish edge his Brazilian rival by 0.0096 of a second, giving Panther its second consecutive title.
2. 2002 Richmond International Raceway, Panther Turns Corner on Season with Last-Lap Pass for Win
Among all of Panther Racing’s race victories, the win at Richmond International Raceway in 2002 is often the most remembered by key team personnel. Former Lead Engineer Andy Brown called it Sam Hornish Jr.’s best drive in the No. 4 car. Team owner John Barnes marked it as the turning point in the team’s season, and the spring board that sent his team to its second consecutive league title. In the event, Hornish fell a lap down in the race, only to come back to pass Team Penske driver Gil de Ferran on the second-to-last lap for one of the team’s most dramatic wins.
3. 2001 Championship, IndyCar Newcomer Hornish Pushes Panther to First Title.
When Panther Racing replaced popular IndyCar veteran Scott Goodyear with a little-known driver from Defiance, Ohio, many in league circles scoffed at owner John Barnes for surpassing many other well-known and more experienced drivers. Hornish and Panther Racing responding by winning each of their first two races together, and by storming to their first of two IndyCar Series championships.
4. Goodyear Captures Phoenix Victory, Panther’s First IndyCar Series Win
A dominant victory at Phoenix International Raceway in 1999 was one of many for IndyCar veteran Scott Goodyear, but trip to victory lane was the first in history for Panther Racing, and for many of the team’s core crewman, it was the first major IndyCar victory of their careers. It was also the first big hurdle the team eclipsed en route to becoming one of IndyCar premiere organizations and a perennial championship contender.
5. “The Move” – Vitor Meira’s Indianapolis 500 Pass for the Ages
Vitor Meira said bluntly after his thread-the-needle pass from third to first place in the 92nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 that he, “decided I wasn’t going to lift.” While finishing second place in the race, the 400,000 fans in attendance and the millions more watching on television at home will forever remember the race for Meira’s bold three-wide pass on a restart on Lap 160, when he split eventual race winner Scott Dixon and leader Ed Carpenter moments before barreling into the lead at the first turn of the Speedway’s historic 2.5-mile oval.
6. The Comeback of 2006
As last as February in 2006, many league insiders had accepted the fact that the short, yet successful, run by Panther Racing in the IndyCar Series had come to a conclusion. After primary sponsor Pennzoil and engine-backer General Motors elected to leave IndyCar racing, Panther was left with no major sponsor, a handful of crew members and no driver as the season approached. An auction of extra team equipment, an addition of team partners and a handful of 11th-hour sponsorship deals put Panther back on track. Brazilian driver Vitor Meira, piloting a bright-orange No. 4 car, and the Panther Pack responded with one with of the best season’s in team history; finishing on the podium six times during the year, and ending the season fifth in the IndyCar championship standings ahead of all four Andretti-Green Racing drivers.
Most Moving Off-Track Moment:
In addition to its on-track success, Panther Racing has experienced many great moments away from the race facilities that define the IndyCar Series, but none was more moving and life-changing than one appearance that fell in June of 2008. In the days leading up to the race at Texas Motor Speedway, Panther team owner John Barnes and driver Vitor Meira visited injured soldiers at the Brooke Army Medical Center, a modern state-of-the-art 450-bed health care facility that provides level-one trauma and graduate medical education, located in Fort Sam Houston, Texas. The courage, bravery and determination of the soldiers there, and the great people who care for them, was unlike anything those who attended had seen in their lifetimes. As both Barnes and Meira said days after the visit, “We’ve become better people by having spent just one day there.