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(Enlarge) IndyCar driver JR Hildebrand shakes hands with Fort Meade service members outside the Freedom Inn Dining Facility on Aug. 29, his second visit to the installation. Hildebrand, who drives the National Guard car, finished 12th in Sunday's Baltimore Grand Prix. (Photo by Phil Grout)

Just a few days before JR Hildebrand joined some of the world's best race car drivers for a fast-paced route through city streets for the Baltimore Grand Prix, the 24-year-old driver of the National Guard IndyCar and his team from Panther Racing stopped at Fort Meade to meet with service members

"We're so blessed to carry the National Guard colors and name and to be with Soldiers, Airmen and Marines across the world," said Johns Barnes, owner of Panther Racing. "Our job is easy; we get to stand in your shadows."

For several hours on Aug. 29, Hildebrand met with fans at the Freedom Inn Dining Facility and the Exchange parking lot.

The USO of Metropolitan Washington and Emergent BioSolutions sponsored the meet-and-greet.

"Today we are completely delighted that through the partnership with USO and Emergent to bring Panther Racing and JR Hildebrand [to Fort Meade] and watch him win the Baltimore Grand Prix on Sunday," Garrison Commander Col. Edward C. Rothstein said at the event. "This is a way to kick it off by meeting the star of the show."

This was Hildebrand and Panther Racing's second visit to the installation. Before last year's inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix, they met with the Warrior Transition Unit on post.

Elaine Rodgers, president of the USO of Metropolitan Washington, said the team frequently spends time with service members, including a visit to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Aug. 30.

"They go to all the military bases that we ask them to go to, not just here but around the world," Rodgers said.

Last week's event kicked off with a small ceremony and remarks from Hildebrand, Rothstein, Rodgers, Barnes and Don Elsey, Emergent's senior vice president of finance and administration, and chief financial officer.

Hildebrand and Barnes both thanked the service members and said meeting with the military keeps the team humble.

"I'm excited to be here," Hildebrand said. "It's an honor and privilege to represent you guys. ... We just want to thank you for everything you do with your service."

Throughout the afternoon, Hildebrand met with service members, posing for photos and signing autographs. The crowd who gathered around the event were able to jump into the National Guard car to get a feel for Hildebrand's machine.

"I probably wouldn't drive it for real, but I'd love to see [Hildebrand] drive it," said Seaman Paolo Bayas, who is attending the Defense Information School to become a mass communications specialist.

As a fan of race car driving, Bayas said he enjoyed meeting Hildebrand.

"These guys are super awesome to be able to maneuver the cars at those speeds. They have that 'X-factor' not everybody has," he said. "It's definitely cool meeting him."

Bayas and Sgt. Tim Koster, a basic combat correspondence course student at DINFOS, said events such as the meet-and-greet with Hildebrand help students through training since there isn't much free time to go out after school.

"It's really cool having the racer come out here," Koster said. "It obviously shows a lot of support with racing for the National Guard and coming out to meeting the troops. It's a big morale boost."

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