The last few weeks in the life of JR Hildebrand have followed an exemplary path.
First, in advance of joining Dreyer & Reinbold for his two contracted races, he spent the weekend with the team in Toronto getting to know its ins and outs and learning from his teammate-to-be, Justin Wilson.
Then, he debuted at Mid-Ohio where he posted the seventh-fastest time in the first practice session (ahead of Wilson, who was 14th, as well as both Ganassi cars), missed making the Fast 12 by .043 seconds after others in his stacked qualification group posted a flurry of last-minute hot laps, and brought the car home unscathed in a quiet 16th place (respectable after an 18th starting position at a track that allows little passing, though he admitted going through some growing pains in his first race-time pit stops).
He showed similar consistency throughout this past weekend at Infineon until being forced out of the race early after being unceremoniously punted by Marco Andretti on lap 23. More importantly, though, he could have used his post-race interview to angrily voice his displeasure at having had a golden career opportunity ripped away from him in front of his hometown crowd — but he instead chose to conduct himself with poise and decorum and came off looking like a class act.
And now, the sad reality sets in again as he goes back to being another observer on the sidelines.
He’s exceedingly intelligent (he has an full academic scholarship for MIT on deferment while he pursues his racing career), painfully talented, articulate, full of potential, and as apple-pie American as they come.
So, why on Earth can’t this guy find the money he needs to put himself into an IndyCar full-time?
The answer, unfortunately, just leads to more waiting. Marketing momentum is building for the Series but has some distance yet to go, and the amount of money required to fund a full season is still a tough sell for even the most marketable personalities. And the incentives that are rumored to be in the works for graduating FIL champions are coming just a little too late to be of help to one of the brightest young stars to come through its ranks in years.
But let’s hope that some company searching for a brilliant young athlete spokesperson sits up and takes notice, and soon. The clock is ticking on this one, and it would be criminal to see him slip through the cracks.