James Hinchcliffe can’t shake the memories and probably never will: the horrific crash during practice for the 2015 Indianapolis 500 that dramatically changed Hinchcliffe’s life.
“I see it all the time, I'm still intrinsically linked to that video,” Hinchcliffe told Autoweek in an exclusive interview. “And so I watch it because it's on around me, or it’s usually part of an intro video (when he’s interviewed).”
But at the same time, as strange as it may sound, Hinchcliffe has embraced his wreck in a positive way. Yes, it was life-changing, but it was in a good way for both him and the sport.
“For me, I do genuinely look at it as something that was a life-changing event for me, but honestly in almost exclusively good ways,” the so-called Mayor of Hinchtown said. “I made the comment to someone recently that so much has happened to me, and in my life in the last seven years since that accident that's been good, that I can sort of indirectly use a reverse domino theory, trace back to that accident happening. So in a lot of ways, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me, as weird as that sounds.
“I've always tried to look at the silver lining, and in that whole scenario right from day one, when I woke up in hospital, I think that mentality has really served me well, and just kind of helped me move past the trauma of the event itself and really look at what kind of good came out of it.”
In a sense, Hinchcliffe’s wreck has become the go-to memory not just for other interviews he does, particularly on TV, but is one of the first things fans talk with him about whenever they engage with each other, be it at a race track, in an airport or plane or other venues.
“I still talk to people who will tell me, ‘Hey man, I remember where I was when that happened,” Hinchcliffe said. “I was at an event at the speedway here (last week). I was sitting in the crowd, and this lady put her hand on my shoulder and she said, ‘I just want you to know, we prayed for you that day.’ And I didn't have to say anything more than that. I knew what she's talking about.
“It’s been seven years after the accident and people still bring it up. I don't want to say it’s part of my identity, but it's certainly a big part of my story, when you think of my career in motorsports.”
When Hinchcliffe was brought into Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital, just a couple miles from Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he was listed in critical condition. He suffered several injuries, but the worst was a puncture to his left thigh after a piece of the suspension broke free and went right into Hinchcliffe’s pelvis.
But even worse, Hinchcliffe suffered massive blood loss, requiring several transfusions after the incident.
Yet, there was another good outcome from Hinchcliffe’s incident: several changes to IndyCar safety equipment and IMS at-track protocols.
“The silver lining parts that I looked at was because of what happened to me, we made changes to the car,” he said. “There were alterations made to some of the protocols from safety team and the medical team. For example, the infield medical center here at the speedway didn't have any blood on hand, there was no storage unit for any blood .
“That was obviously a huge part of what I needed. This is supposed to sort of just be a stop gap before the ambulance headed off to the closest Level One trauma center, which is just down the street here. While you could perform (emergency) surgery in this facility, there was just a few things that they didn't have on hand, and (blood) was one of them.
“They subsequently purchased a refrigerator and there's now units of blood on hand here at the speedway. So there's a collection of things that that came as a result of the lessons that we've learned from that day.”
Even though he’s not in a race car this weekend, the biggest race weekend of the year, and particularly at the place that hosts the Greatest Spectacle In Racing, with nearly 300,000 fans expected to attend for the first time since 2019, Hinchcliffe wouldn’t be anywhere else.
“I’m living the dream, man, living the dream,” he said with a smile. “I get to go to work and watch the sport I love and talk about it. One of my favorite things was always educating people about IndyCar. I think there are so many unknowns and so many misconceptions about our sport that I love meeting people that were sort of new to IndyCar racing and educating them.
“And now I get to do that to a million people a weekend with the biggest microphone I've ever had to do it. So, for me, that's incredible and I’m still part of this great community.”
Follow Autoweek contributor Jerry Bonkowski on Twitter @JerryBonkowski