Indy 500 2012: J.R. Hildebrand's Mental Toughness Will Lead to Redemption

David DanielsSenior Writer IMay 22, 2012

FORT WORTH, TX - JUNE 10:  J.R. Hildebrand driver of the #4 National Guard Panther Racing Dallara Honda, looks on during qualifying for the IZOD IndyCar Series Firestone Twin 275's at Texas Motor Speedway on June 10, 2011 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

 J.R. Hildebrand is different.

The 24-year-old race car driver should’ve gone down in history as the 2011 Indy 500 winner, but he choked. In most competitors, such an infamous collapse would trigger an unbearable amount of distress. But Hildebrand isn’t most competitors, and that’s why he’ll come back with a vengeance at Indianapolis.

Phillip B. Wilson of the Indianapolis Star reported that Hildebrand didn’t go into a depression like so other many athletes after a similar level of letdown. Instead, he manned up as the man nicknamed Captain America said:

After seeing guys screw up that kind of situation in sports and kind of handle that situation badly, I felt like I had no option but to stand up and be a man about it and face the music. That, in the end, made it much easier for me to compartmentalize it. Without putting much effort into it, it was pretty clear to me what happened.

Hildebrand will enter the Indianapolis 500 with a clear mind.

There should be a Borg-Warner Trophy on his mantle. The focus of his interviews this week should be about defending his Indy 500 victory. But despite blowing it all, Hildebrand simply doesn’t live with the regret that would haunt the vast majority of competitors in the same situation.

He is free.

When Hildebrand approaches the final turn of Sunday’s race, thoughts of I can’t screw this up again won’t pop up in his head. Because he didn’t dwell on defeat, he’ll be that much more confident and that much more capable of being in the same position that he was in last year with one turn to go.

Except this time around, he won’t choke—the fact that he faced the music like he did will make him more determined than ever to finish strong.

Expect nothing less than success for Hildebrand.


David Daniels is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report and a syndicated writer.