(via Indy Star) – There will be a Netflix special about James Hinchcliffe one day. Of that, Conor Daly is certain.
“The guy’s a superhero,” Hinchcliffe’s friend and fellow IndyCar driver said. “Hinch’s life, man, it’ll be a great documentary one day. Just an incredible Netflix special.
“What a wild ride.”
Think about it. Look what has happened to the unshakable Canadian superstar in just the past few years.
>> He nearly died during practice on racing’s grandest stage, the Indianapolis 500.
>> Three years later, he suffered the greatest heartbreak of his racing career by failing to qualify for the 500.
>> Three months after that, he watched Robert Wickens — the best friend he convinced to come to IndyCar — nearly lose his life in a terrifying crash at Pocono.
Daly’s right. It would have to be a documentary because the past four years of Hinchcliffe’s life test the limits of believable fiction.
Time and time again, racing has tried to break down James Hinchcliffe — physically and mentally — yet Hinchcliffe refuses to yield. He keeps showing up on race weekends.
A year after a four-foot rod impaled his lower body and he nearly bled out on the track, Hinchcliffe was back at Indy, sitting on pole.
Six weeks after the crushing defeat at Bump Day, Hinchcliffe found some salvation at Iowa Speedway.
And six months after seeing his best friend nearly killed at Pocono, he’s back on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., this weekend, ready to lead Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports into what he hopes is a new era of success.
“It’s remarkable,” says Hinchcliffe’s boss Sam Schmidt, a pillar of resilience in his own right. “It’s one of the things that makes him a franchise guy, the guy we built this team around.”
His friends all say he makes overcoming adversity look easy. Between his overdeveloped sense of humor and keen perspective, he takes to it naturally.
“That guy’s just built to handle tough situations,” Daly says.
“All drivers have to compartmentalize,” adds close friend and confidant Marco Andretti. “Hinch is just one of the best at it.”
But it’s not easy, Hinchcliffe admits. Little about last year was easy. In many ways, the 2018 IndyCar season felt like a nightmare from which he’d never wake up.
There was a moment at Portland — the penultimate race of the season — where Hinchcliffe had simply had enough. He and the team struggled through practice but managed to turn things around for qualifying and earn a respectable starting spot (ninth).
It was enough to offer Hinchcliffe a glimmer of hope in what had been a dark second half of the season.
Of course, Hinchcliffe said, that glimmer was snuffed out quickly.
Still aching from the injuries he sustained in the wreck at Pocono two weeks earlier, he lost control of his car when he and Andretti Autosport rookie Zach Veach made contact in Turn 3. Their collision caused a domino effect that led to Marco Andretti’s car hurtling through the air, dangerously close to slamming into Hinchcliffe’s head. Fortunately, Hinchcliffe escaped the wreck physically unharmed.
But mentally, well he’d had just about enough of 2018.
“We got the car fixed, and got it back out there,” Hinchcliffe said. “But we were some 25 laps down, and it’s still an ill car, and you’re just pounding around trying to stay out of everybody’s way, in a bit a discomfort physically, and you can’t help but think, ‘I just want this race to be done, and I’m kind of over this year, too. Let’s just get it over with and focus on 2019.’”
Given the season he’d had, who could blame him?
May tested Hinchcliffe in a way he’d never been tested before. Recovering from his nearly fatal crash at Indy in 2015 will (hopefully) always be the biggest comeback saga of his life. But in some ways, it might have been easier than missing the 500. Following the crash, Hinchcliffe had tangible goals to set his mind to. He could aggressively attack rehab and beat doctors’ recovery estimates.
But missing the 500, there was nothing he could do to make that pain go away. He was forced to sit on the sideline for the Super Bowl of races, and as a devastating bonus, watch as his championship dreams died in front of him. Despite a strong start to the season (five straight top-10 finishes), there is no recovering from scoring a zero in a double points race.
There was nothing for Hinchcliffe to do but cope. Deal with the pain and promise to do what he’d done before: return with a vengeance.
“I’ve been through worse here,” Hinchcliffe said in a post-Bump Day news conference that left Alexander Rossi in awe.
The poise and class Hinchcliffe showed in the minutes after shedding tears with his teammates on the worst day of their professional of careers is not something Rossi will soon forget.
“That press conference was one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen from an athlete in any sport,” Hinchcliffe’s friend and podcast co-host said. “I know I couldn’t have done it as well as he did. I don’t think many people could. That’s just a testament to who he is as a person.”
Despite the awkwardness of his friends not knowing how to talk to him during race week, Hinchcliffe carried on with a brave face, made all his scheduled media appearances and prepared for the doubleheader in Detroit.
Detroit wasn’t the No. 5 car’s best weekend, but they rebounded for their best stretch of the season. Hinchcliffe rattled off a fourth at Texas, a 10th at Road America, won at Iowa and finished fourth again at Toronto.
“It was a nice little roll we were on, and then …”
And then Pocono.
Some said Wickens’ crash was a sobering reminder of the dangers of IndyCar. For some, maybe that was true. But not for Hinchcliffe. He isn’t someone who needs those types of reminders.
IndyCar racing robbed his boss of his ability to walk. It took his friends’ lives (Dan Wheldon, Justin Wilson) and his hero’s, too (Greg Moore). It took a swing at him in 2015, and as if all that weren’t enough, it went after his best friend next, leaving Wickens with a severe spinal cord injury from which he’s still recovering.
It’s enough to make you wonder why someone so charismatic, so effortlessly charming, doesn’t find a safer line of work.
“If I could have as much fun making a living a different way, I might consider it,” he told IndyStar. “But I just don’t see that happening anytime soon.”
We know all these guys are tough. We know they’re “wired differently,” as Hinchcliffe likes to say. But how much is one man supposed to take? How much pain is he supposed to absorb before he admits that maybe the IndyCar gods are trying to tell him something?
Hinchcliffe truthfully doesn’t know the answer to that. He doesn’t think about it. He can’t. If he even lets that type of thought creep into his mind, that’s the end. It’s all over.
“If we’re gonna ever think of those things, our fastest days are behind us. We’re finished,” said Andretti, whom Hinchcliffe stayed with at his home in Pennsylvania in the days after Wickens’ wreck. “You can’t think that way. When Dan died, I was one of the guys who wanted to race that day, not cancel it. And after Pocono, we had to put our helmets on and go race past a hole in the (fence). That’s what we do. Of course you have to go to the hospital and face the music and see what these poor guys have gone through. That’s hard. But it can’t affect you at the race track. You can’t let it.”
Despite knowing that, Andretti admits that he and Hinchcliffe have “the talk” every once in awhile. The one about hanging up their helmets — they like to fantasize about doing it at the same time. They had one of those talks after Wickens’ crash.
It was a short conversation.
“Basically what came out of it was, ‘No, we’re not ready to stop,’” Andretti said. “We both have a lot of unfinished business. Not just proving people wrong but to do the things I know we can do.”
Guess that probably shouldn’t come as a surprise given what’s happened to Hinchcliffe in his career. Remember the note Hinchcliffe wrote after his accident?
Andretti does.The first thing Hinchcliffe did when he woke up, Andretti remembers, wasn’t to ask what happened. Instead, he wrote wrote on a piece of paper, “When can I drive again?”
That’s who Hinchcliffe is. Call it reckless or resilient, but for better or worse, that’s Hinchcliffe. And besides, even if it was nature to quit, he couldn’t.
Wickens wouldn’t have let him.
“I definitely think,” Hinchcliffe said, “if (Marco and I) had gone to Robbie and said, ‘Hey look man, in light of everything, we think we’re gonna call it a day,’ he’d probably respond with something like, ‘Don’t you take that away from me! I gotta come back and kick your (butts) again. Don’t you take that from me.”
“Yeah, I think he would have been pretty disappointed if Marco and I said anything other than let’s keep going.”
So how would Hinchcliffe’s Netflix special end?
There’s only one answer, right? Victory Lane at Indianapolis with a wreath around his neck and a bottle of milk in his hand.
“There’s only one thing left to do at that track for me, and that’s to win the thing,” Hinchcliffe said. “I don’t care if it’s the most traumatic week of my life in practice and a terribly stressful qualifying weekend. If we come out on top on that Sunday, that’s all that matters.”
The only thing that could make it better is if Wickens were right there alongside him in the No. 6 car, fighting for the win, pushing him the whole way.
Now that would be an ending, wouldn’t it Mr. Daly?
“Netflix is gonna love it. Gonna buy it for a billion dollars.”