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“At this point I think if nothing else, fuck it, I’ll buy 10 batteries and just start swapping them out. That doesn’t cost me any fuel and the caddy already weighs 5,000 pounds.” “
How his boss also has four-time Indy 500 winner AJ Foyt, JR Hildebrand lives his life with the past firmly anchored in the present. For Super Tex it is a by-product of more than 60 years as one of the most successful drivers and team owners, that has ever existed.
And for Hildebrand from California, who is driving the # 1 Foyt Racing Chevy on the Speedway this month, this is a lifelong passion for cars and history.
Celebrating was a thing of the past a central theme since he almost won his first Indy 500 as a rookie in 2011. By honoring his Indianapolis heroes with tribute numbers and deep historical dives, Hildebrand has distinguished himself from other contemporaries through constant immersion n lifted into the retro side of racing.
These are things to know after Hildebrand recently decided to drive his wife Kristin from their Colorado home to Indianapolis to do the big 500 miles – To contest the race that takes place on Sunday. The third member of the trip was “Rosie”, Hildebrand’s 1960 Cadillac Coupe Deville, which he bought in 2013. He set out on the 1,100-mile journey with exactly two days to get on the track. That’s how it happened.
Well, it’s always been something I thought about just because I thought it was cool. But I’ve also always thought better of it because it’s a stupid idea.
I think I should anticipate all of this by saying that my wife and I go to Indy every year we’ve lived in Colorado drive. We went out. I have a feeling that because of this, some people just don’t think about stumbling that far in the street. But we are road drivers: we like to drive. But we don’t do much of that in a car that’s over 60 years old.
The longest time I’ve ever driven is maybe 200 miles a day. The journey to our wedding was probably the longest that has ever been. But maybe I felt a little nostalgic with this paint job that I got (next to Foyt’s original car ed. Above) in honor of AJ’s first Indy 500 win in 1961. And then the Foyt team posted an old photo on Instagram of this cool Chevy station wagon towing its car across the track in 1961. I jokingly threw up a picture of Rosie and said, “I could get Rosie out …” It got some attention and had some gears that eagerly pushed me to try it out. And I thought, “Well, if there’s a year for it, it’s probably the right one.”
You’d think that on an 1,100 mile road trip in a 1960s caddy, I’d do a lot of car prep before we left met. But no, in reality I didn’t. The car was on a battery tender. In all honesty, my thought was, “If it drives around town, it’ll probably get you at least as far as Kansas or whatever.” And let’s go. As soon as you exit Denver, take I-70 east. straight and easy.
So Kristin and I packed everything for Indy and she took our little SUV because we had brought the dog with us this year, and off we went.
As we plan, we try on first day to get to Kansas City. that’s about halfway there. Topeka is basically exactly half the way between Boulder and Indianapolis. The usual shot on the first day, you know, you’re obviously losing two hours. It sure is a beast. I mean, no matter how you do it, you’ll be in the car for at least seven or eight hours. Both days.
We had to do this on one day when I was driving for another team and it’s not excellent. But I had a Cadillac CTS-V at the time, so it was easier to fire it off in a day. It’s another experience that really made you realize that you picked the right spouse as Kristin was totally fine with the daily schedule.
We have to do this in three steps. We have to go 80 mph on average, which means there are fuel stops. We rationed water; the whole nine yards. Super old caddy this time, but two days to get there. Easy when we don’t have any problems with the car.
I filled it up with fuel and when we started wondering if I had been going over 70 mph for a long time and the answer was no. I mean it doesn’t have seat belts. It’s like all old A.J. started in Indy back then.
At 70, the thing feels pretty good, even though the speedometer doesn’t really work. I have a GPS base. A magnet basically where the instrument cluster is, and I only use my phone as a speedometer and odometer, so it’s kind of fine. The car seems pretty comfortable at 65. At 70-75 it still feels okay, and when I’m 75 I’ll be gone at least a little quicker than the big rigs.
Everything is great for the first couple of hours. I think this is the best decision I’ve ever made. This is going to be so great. And the car is sprung on the airbag, and then the controller in the car started to flicker for the airbags. It’s kind of weird. And then I noticed the power windows were slowly rolling up and down, but the caddy is still running fine.
But I stopped and made sure the battery was properly connected. This battery was new, the alternator was new within a few years. Then it finally starts to die of me while I’m driving. So I rolled off the freeway into a gas station. And at this point I think, okay, I’ve ridden like 200 miles, got a 20 gallon fuel tank, but the fuel gauge is pretty tricky. Maybe it’s only getting 10 miles per gallon. I put in fuel, it only takes 12 and a half gallons so I think, “Okay, sure, the collector works better than that.” I had to jump in to get started.
Get back on the road, but the car has a problem. It’s like a slow burn, whatever the problem, it seems likely to be the alternator just diagnosing it on the fly. But the thing is pretty new. And I don’t know, that didn’t really make sense to me. Stopped happening. So my wife catches up, she has jumper cables, jumps in the car, runs well about 30 miles, and then the same thing happens; dies again.
Thank goodness, within 10 miles of a few jumps, this is Goodland, Kansas. It’s the only place on this 500-mile stretch of I-70 that actually has auto parts stores. At this point, if nothing else, damn it I’m going to buy 10 batteries and just start swapping them out. That doesn’t cost me any fuel and the caddy already weighs 5000 pounds.
I figured if this is just a battery charging problem, this inverter I bought could charge a battery in your wife’s car . While we’re driving, I’ll just swap them out as we move on. But now I’m wasting time on this idea and we’re getting way behind schedule for our trip on the first day.
At this point, I probably had the best idea of the whole trip, which was all about getting one find local mechanic. I roll past this guy’s shop and it was exactly six o’clock while everything else was closing. He had a couple of hot rods and old pickups and stuff outside the store. Stop when I stopped, looked inside and found the guy has some dirty cars. I said, “Okay, this is definitely the place.” The problem, if this can be solved, this guy will know what to do.
So Alex’s cooler and repair in Goodland, Kansas was the one to go Place. Alex’s dad says talk to my son, he’s working on someone else’s car. He gets out, comes over, checks out the car and says, “I have the problem here.” He and his buddy were loading an engine from the back of his pickup truck. His buddy was the part guy at the local Napa Auto Parts that was already closed. He says, “Yo man, give me one of those GM single-wire generators.” His buddy goes over, opens the Napa, gets the generator, and comes back. It installs 30 minutes later and starts up again immediately, with no stress.
We take off and continue driving until we arrive in Salina, Kansas, which is hundreds of miles from our destination. So we managed to get to Selena, get a good night’s sleep, wake up the next day and drive over 700 miles to Indy in one day.
When I got to the driver’s parking lot in Indy, they gave me some people courage points for even doing it, but it was worth it. Man, it was so cool to have Rosie here, the first car to be seen on the property. Some people have newer hot rods; Tony Kanaan has an RS6 Avant; Bobby Rahal has a 575 Maranello. I have my girl Rosie.
I was obviously prepared for the sideways trip and it started, but Kristin and I managed to pull out the stops and get them back on track. And now we have to drive Rosie through Indy and it was pretty radical. It’s the perfect car to drive A.J. for 1961. We made the right choices to get Rosie out.
Assuming nothing goes wrong on the way home, I’ll stop at Goodland again. I paid the bill at Alex and left a decent tip so that it could happen there at such short notice. And they can definitely expect a good swag on our drive back. There is no doubt about that.
Hildebrand and his AJ Foyt Racing start roll into 22nd place for tomorrow’s Indianapolis 500. It is his 11th run at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.