James Hinchcliffe is no stranger to battling adversity and emerging stronger and more resilient than before. In 2015, during a practice session for the Indianapolis 500, a suspension failure sent his IndyCar rocketing into the wall at 224 mph, leaving him impaled on a suspension piece which had penetrated the carbon fiber tub. The part pierced his femoral artery, causing him to almost bleed to death on the spot. He survived, and immediately asked, “When can I race again?” A broken pelvis sidelined him for the remainder of the season yet in 2016 Hinchcliffe returned to the grid with no sign of lasting damage, taking three podiums across the season and even securing pole position in his return to the Indy 500.
The 2019 offseason presented Hinchcliffe, 33, with a different type of obstacle. It lacked the horrific physical trauma of his 2015 crash, yet certainly still tested his fortitude: Schmidt Peterson Motorsport surprisingly dropped him from their driver lineup, even though he handily outperformed his teammate, Marcus Ericsson, and still had one year left on his contract. This move left him in “complete shock and very disappointed with how it was handled,” Hinchcliffe said in an email interview with All Things Automotive, conducted before the 2020 IndyCar season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.
While SPM’s sudden decision left him without a race seat after most other spots had already been filled, Hinchcliffe showed the same resilience he had in 2015. “I think it is human nature to have moments of ‘worst case scenario’ syndrome,” he explained, “But I never let myself truly believe that I wouldn’t make any races this season.”.
He secured a spot at Andretti Autosport, for three races in 2020, including the 104th running of the Indy 500. Hinchcliffe raced with Andretti Autosport from 2012 to 2014, racking up three wins and four third place finishes. “It’s always been a mutual dream between us to get the chance to work together again.”
While it may not be a full season, that doesn’t mean Hinchcliffe is taking it any less seriously. “I am training as if I was racing in St. Pete, so physically I will be ready, and I think mentally the approach to the GP, the 500 and Texas has to be the same as if we were racing full time,” he reasoned.
“There is still the chance of adding more,” Hinchcliffe added, but a seat at the Indy 500 was Hinchcliffe’s main target after being stranded by SPM. “The Indy 500 is THE most important race,” he noted. “The history of this race is what makes it so special. Winning there is one of the greatest achievements in motorsport.”
Even when he isn’t racing in 2020, Hinchcliffe won’t be sitting idle. He is joining NBC Sports as a driver analyst reporting from the pit lane. ““I have alway enjoyed working the TV side of racing when I have gotten the chance,” he said. He will even contribute to coverage of the Indy Lights feeder series as well as select IMSA and NASCAR races.
Hinchcliffe does have experience behind the microphone. Since 2018, he and Indy 500-winner Alexander Rossi have hosted “Off Track with Hinch and Rossi,” a podcast where they discuss racing, their off-track lives, and popular culture. The two drivers have excellent chemistry—“Alex is one of my closest friends in the paddock,” Hinchcliffe said—ensuring that the comedic banter in the largely unscripted show remains entertaining and unforced. The podcast recently returned for 2020, with the first episode debuting in February.
Hinchcliffe acknowledges that this new television role will be a different kind of challenge but believes he has insights to add and says, “there is a great crew that will help me out along the way and make sure I don’t screw things up too badly.” If it goes well, a career in the booth definitely interests him when his racing days are over. “Let’s wait to see how this year goes to see if I am any good!”
A new podcast and a role on NBC Sports haven’t been the only additions to Hinchcliffe’s off-track life in recent years—last August, he married actress Rebecca Dalton in Ontario, Canada. Dalton had been his prom date at their Toronto high school, but their path from prom to marriage was not straightforward, once again demonstrating Hinchcliffe’s remarkable resilience and comeback ability. Back in 2004, a 17-year-old Hinchcliffe found himself in a tough spot—after breaking up with his girlfriend a few days before prom, he was without a date. At the last minute, he asked Dalton, who he knew through a mutual friend in their acting class, to accompany him platonically to the event, Hinchcliffe believing that Dalton, who he described as “the prettiest girl in school” to Indianapolis television station WTHR, was out of his league.
After prom, the two didn’t talk for twelve years: Hinchcliffe pursued his career in IndyCar while Dalton made a name in the world of television, landing a role on the Hallmark Channel’s The Good Witch. But when Hinchcliffe’s 2015 accident and recovery featured prominently in Toronto news, Dalton took notice, and reached out via FaceTime a few months later. (Dalton had, coincidentally, played the girlfriend of an injured race car driver on Saving Hope in 2014.) That conversation sparked months of messaging before the two finally met for a real date in February 2016, and they instantly clicked.
Four years later, they are happily married, but just because Hinchcliffe has found love doesn’t mean that he is any less determined as an IndyCar racer. “Becky knows who I am and what drives me and she wouldn’t be happy with me being out of the car until I feel I am ready, and I am just not there yet.”