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Racing Young 

Sausalito native J. R. Hildebrand makes his second career start at Infineon


Big breaks come in unusual ways. Sometimes they come because of big breaks—as in legs.

Rewind to Memorial Day, and the Indianapolis 500. On the last lap, there was a horrific crash involving Ryan Hunter-Reay and Mike Conway, the latter getting the short end of the stick. Conway's car vaulted into the air, careened into the catch fence and landed upside down in a million pieces. If you weren't watching the race, you probably saw it on the news. Conway survived, but suffered a broken leg. Until his rehabilitation is complete, his car owner, Dennis Reinbold, has tapped 22-year-old Sausalito native J. R. Hildebrand to substitute for him.

For series rookie Hildebrand, the window of opportunity is small, but he will make the most of it. He'll take the wheel of the No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold TranSystem car in only his second IndyCar Series race at the Grand Prix of Sonoma at Infineon Raceway Sunday. It's the opportunity Hildebrand has been working toward, and with his talent and local knowledge, he's sure to be a contender.

A graduate of Marin County's Redwood High School, Hildebrand has worked his way up through all of the junior series of racing. In 2009, he won the Firestone Indy Lights season championship, but breaking into the big leagues of IndyCar racing has proven difficult. He looks forward to his big chance in front of the home crowd.

"It's a huge opportunity," Hildebrand beams. "When you do a one-off race like this, people only remember you for that race. I need to do everything I can to do a great job and get a good result."

Hildebrand is optimistic and excited about racing at his home track.

"I grew up at Infineon, watching my dad race vintage cars," he says. "I won my first race here, and I won the Indy Lights championship here. I know the track pretty well, but I'll be racing against guys like Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan, who have raced IndyCars here a lot and have won here."

Last weekend, Hildebrand made his first IndyCar start at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. He qualified 18th, but even after committing several rookie mistakes, he was still able to improve and finish 16th. Hildebrand was disappointed, but acknowledges that the learning curve is