james hinchcliffe relaxes on all cylinders
After giving the shoulder straps one last pull to ensure they are tight, his crew member steps away from the car. That is when James Hinchcliffe closes his eyes for just a second, takes a deep breath and gets ready for another fierce ride.
The noise is intense, echoing off the walls just a few inches away, but he has to stay focused, keep his concentration on the pavement ahead. After all, at nearly 200 mph, a slight hesitation can mean the difference between life and death.
Things move at a barreling pace when you are on the road to the top as a professional IndyCar driver. “I am always on the move, always on the go,” explains Hinchcliffe, who races for iconic Andretti Autosports in the coveted #27 Go Daddy car.
Hinchcliffe spent more than a decade travelling the country, working his way up the race car ranks beginning with karting at the age of nine. He drove open wheel cars in several feeder series including Formula BMW USA, Star Mazda Series, Champ Car Atlantic Series, and the Firestone Indy Lights Series. But his life moved into overdrive when Newman/Haas offered him an IndyCar seat in April 2011.
“I constantly have people either telling me where I have to be, or asking me to go somewhere, or telling me to do something.” To get away from it all, the 2011 Rookie of the Year has to go deep.
“For me (diving) is the ultimate escape,” says the Canadian, a native of Oakville, Ontario.
SCUBA diving is a solace for the professional driver and Turks & Caicos is his go-to location. “It was love at first sight, the moment we stepped off the plane.”
It was fortuitous that the place his parents picked for the family vacation in 2008 was also one of the best dive sites in the world. After racing, diving is his greatest passion. “If racing had not worked out, I probably would have become a SCUBA diving instructor.”
It is not often his hectic schedule allows for time away, but when it does, you will likely find Hinchcliffe suiting up for an underwater adventure somewhere around the islands. “It is a complete other world. Down there nobody can talk to you, nobody can reach you. It is so peaceful.” While he is escaping the company of humans and ear-piercing noise, Hinchcliffe is comforted by the diverse ecosystem. “I love how much life is down there. “
The plenitude of dive sites is also a plus. In the four years he has been diving in the Turks & Caicos, he says he has only visited the same site twice.
SCUBA is a passion Hinchcliffe inherited from his father, an extremely relevant figure in the young driver’s life. The Hinchcliffes are a close-knit family who spend their quiet time in the Turks & Caicos, their home away from home. “It is a place we go together, a place we get together,” he says.
Not only do they vacation together, the Hinchcliffes also work together. James’s dad Jeremy has been his manager since he first started racing. His sister Rebecca recently came on board to help with the business and branding side of his career. As for his mom Arlene, Hinchcliffe says, “We always joke she is the head of the fan club.”
All joking aside, Hinchcliffe has one serious fan club, you might even consider it a society all its own. ‘Hinchtown’ boasts its own post office, newspaper and has its own Mayor, Hinch himself of course.
The marketing genius behind his Web site, Hinchtown.com, put the young athlete on the map. “It let people know I was there and a little bit more about my personality.” It has been a huge hit with fans, and over the years has taken on a bit of a life of its own. “I get introduced as the Mayor of Hinchtown more than I do as simply James Hinchcliffe,” says the whimsical Mayor.
In fact, it was his fun-loving personality that attracted the attention of one of the most marketing-savvy sponsors in the business.
Landing the ride with Andretti Autosports and Go Daddy as a sponsor was a dream come true, and Hinch says it has been a roller-coaster ride ever since.
”Not only do you sign up with a top-class team, but you sign up with probably the most visible sponsor in all of motorsports right now.” Go Daddy was the driving force behind female racing sensation Danica Patrick’s rise to the top of the auto-sports world. “What they had done with Danica in the past was incredible,” says Hinch. When Danica moved on to NASCAR in 2012, she left some sizeable racing shoes to fill. Following up the biggest act in racing adds a lot of pressure and stress, but lucky for Hinch, Go Daddy is a company that knows how to have fun.
“They have a sense of humor, which for me is perfect.” Not taking himself too seriously comes naturally for Hinch. ”I think the combination of me and Go Daddy, and our personalities, is a match made in heaven.“
In the heavenly world of Go Daddy, having your picture on their home page is an almighty reward. Since 2007, Danica’s face has been prominently displayed on the GoDaddy.com homepage. This summer the web-hosting giant held a competition that offered fans the chance to determine whose picture they wanted to see on the site’s homepage. Fans went into overdrive to get out the vote for the Mayor of Hinchtown. “We had a lot of fun doing the campaign, and the commercials. Danica is so cool and so much fun to work with on these things.”
But don’t let the coy smile fool you. Knocking Danica off the fan-favorite podium was a major win for Hinch. In the race to the top, having a successful fan-base is half the battle won.
The Andretti Autosports/Go Daddy and Hinchtown partnership was a success from the first green flag, finishing sixth or better in the first five races of the 2012 season. “We were thrilled to see results right away.”
The success peaked in May, when in only his second year driving an Indy Car, Hinchcliffe landed in the front row at the Indy 500. “I was one of the three guys lucky enough to start with a clear view into Turn 1,” Hinch says with great pride. “With
the history and tradition of that place, to add your name to the list of racing greats who started from the front row was pretty awesome.”
While he does it all with a smile on his face, racing is no laughing matter for Hinch. The competition is tough, and week in and week out he has to share the track with some pretty accomplished drivers. “I know I still have to pay my dues,” but Hinch was happy to finish his first full season at the sharp end of the grid, placing an impressive 8th overall.
“I just enjoy driving the race car. That is why we do this. Nobody gets into the sport for anything more, other than the raw passion of being involved in racing. It’s not a sport, it’s a drug and I got addicted very young. For me, waking up and getting to drive one of the fastest cars on the planet as a job every weekend, there is no better feeling than that.”
After a stressful and energy-draining season, Hinch rewards himself with a trip to his personal paradise. He looks forward to some time to mentally prepare for the upcoming 2013 season. He also took the opportunity to share his little piece of paradise with his beauty-queen sweetheart from Australia, Kirsten Dee. On this trip, he is planning to show her the breathtaking world of underwater exploration, slowing everything down for a change.