(via INDYCAR.com) – Forty-five minutes into the American Red Cross James Hinchcliffe Challenge Blood Drive on Friday afternoon at Iowa Speedway, seven people lie on gurneys, donating blood. Ten more wait nearby.
Meanwhile, the guy whose name is on the sign outside makes the rounds, sharing his thoughts and thanks with a handshake and an autograph on a T-shirt. He doesn’t have to do it. He wants to do it.
By now, you know the story behind Hinch’s charitable cause. In 2015, his life was saved by quick thinking and donated blood. When he crashed during practice for the Indianapolis 500, a portion of the car’s suspension pierced his left thigh. He nearly bled to death. INDYCAR Safety Team workers saved him, one clamping his femoral artery during the five-mile ambulance ride to IU Health Methodist Hospital. Hinchcliffe needed 14 units of blood in the ambulance alone. The human body usually holds 12 units. Once in surgery, he needed eight more units until the artery was repaired.
What you probably don’t know about Hinchcliffe, though, is just how serious he is about this cause. That became clear to anyone who donated blood Friday afternoon. Nothing much was happening at the track, which will host the Iowa Corn 300 on Sunday. No on-track activity was on the schedule. A few fans milled about here and there. Drivers – but for one – had yet to arrive. The garages were alive with crew members unloading and prepping equipment, but little else moved.
Until you ascended the hill to the back of the grandstand, that is. There, in the glass-and-steel comfort of the Newton Club, people were giving blood because a racer asked them to give blood. Few of them expected to meet him, but they did. And now they know a little something about James Hinchcliffe.
They learned that this is his thing, his project. It’s personal. He could’ve just loaned his name and taped a few promotional spots and been done with it, but he went all in. With help from the American Red Cross, Hinchcliffe held a blood drive at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May. Friday’s drive was the first beyond IMS. Another is scheduled at Sonoma Raceway in September.
Hinchcliffe eventually hopes to expand the blood drives to every race on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. Consider it a good cause with an even better reason.
“I’m a very lucky guy for a lot of different reasons,” Hinchcliffe said during a break in greeting donors. “I get to race for a living, and I made it through what happened to me in 2015. I’m lucky for a lot of different reasons. Something like this feels like a way to give back a little bit. I don’t want to leave this world having just taken. I want to give back as much as I can.”
Giving back means saying thanks, and there is plenty of thanks to go around. Hinchcliffe notes supplies of donated blood run critically short during summer months. A large percentage – about 20 percent of all donations – come from colleges and high schools, which are out during the summer. Likewise, people who donate regularly often can’t during summer months. “But there are no fewer traumas or leukemia patients during the summer,” Hinchcliffe reminded. “It is definitely an issue.”
That’s why he keeps pressing forward toward what he calls his dream: a mobile donation site at every race. When that happens, don’t be surprised if a certain racer shows up to say thanks.
“What makes me so proud about this is that I hear people say, ‘I used to donate all the time but I haven’t for five, six, 10 years, but we saw your tweet or we saw you on the ‘TODAY Show.’ I haven’t done it in a while, but I’m going to get back out there,'” Hinchcliffe said. “That means it’s working. That’s the whole point of this, to educate people and raise awareness of the need for blood. That means we’re doing our job.”
Not so much a job, really. More like an expression of appreciation.