By: Ashley McCubbin
After spending the last 11 years behind the wheel in the NTT IndyCar Series with six wins to his credit, James Hinchcliffe is taking a different seat for 2022 as one of the analysts in the NBC Sports broadcast booth. The Canadian recently spoke with NEWS FROM THE PITS about the opportunity and more.
ASHLEY MCCUBBIN: You’re going to spend a lot of time in the booth this year, instead of behind the wheel. What went into the decision?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: It was a combination of a lot of things, both personal and professional. There are a lot of things that lined up in the right way to kind of make that call and one of them being the new deal that NBC has with IndyCar for the next three years. It was a combination of things, the timing just seemed right, the opportunity just seemed right. I’ve always talked about wanting to get into broadcasting after driving and so it was like I said, the stars kind of aligned and glad we ended up making the decision that we did.
ASHLEY: What are you most excited about ahead of the new experience?
JAMES: Honestly just talking to people about IndyCar racing, educating people about IndyCar was always one of my favorite things to do. I’ve always liked meeting first-timers at the track or even away from the track meeting people who had never seen a race, and really educating them about the nitty gritty of our sport a little bit. every time you have one of those conversations that doesn’t know a lot about it, they leave with a whole respect and appreciation and they leave a fan.
For me to get that opportunity to share my experiences and whatever knowledge or wisdom I might have – I’m sure it’s not much, then all the better. I’m really happy and excited about that.
ASHLEY: We saw you in the booth throughout 2021, with both IndyCar and SRX. What did you most enjoy about the experience that played into the decision?
JAMES: I was so very lucky when I was young – Jeremy Shaw gave me the opportunity to try and do a bit of booth commentary on Champ Car back in the mid 2000s, and that was really my first taste of it. that was really what led me thought this was something I wanted to do post-driving. Then the opportunity that I had in 2020 being partial season, that just solidified it. At that time I had already spent a decade in the sport and really understood racing a lot better when I was 19 and doing it the first time around.
It’s the culture there as well at NBC as the culture there makes them so easy to work with. They definitely make it easy for a rookie like me to just step in and get it done. it was a great experience in 2020 and definitely helped make that decision.
ASHLEY: As you look back at your IndyCar career, what are some of your most memorable moments?
JAMES: I mean, for me, the best is always going to be the first win at St. Pete. Scott McLaughlin now knows what that’s like getting the first win there. But to me, that win is just super special. It would’ve taken getting a Toronto win or an Indy 500 win to top that one. Certainly pole at the 500 is a very special day, very special memory, and that whole month of May in 2016 after het accident in 2015. Everything about that was pretty special.
There’s a handful of other ones that are always going to be positive memories, but more than anything, over a decade in the sport that I love and getting to drive an IndyCar is pretty awesome. I’ve met some incredible people, lifelong friends, and I’m happy to still be involved in the environment and the community – it’s my life.
ASHLEY: If you could change one decision or something from that chapter of your life, what would it be?
JAMES: That’s a tough one. I’m a big believer in the saying that you can’t change what you can’t change. So I don’t spend a lot of time or energy worrying about things that are outside of my control and last time I checked, time travel is not something that’s in my control. So I honestly don’t know. Given the same information and opportunities, I’d make the same decisions and that’s how it goes. Everything that I did or didn’t do has led me to where I am now and I’m happy with what that is. I don’t think I’d change a thing.
ASHLEY: Could we see you get back behind the wheel of an IndyCar in the future?
JAMES: No, I mean there’s always opportunities for the 500. That’s always the one door that I will crack open a little bit and if the right opportunity comes along, I’d be thrilled and honored to compete in that race again. But there’s other racing that I want to do. 2022 is going to be a bit of a gap year for me, and I might try a couple one-off races here and there, but 2023 is looking to be more behind the wheel in something different.
But from an IndyCar standpoint, there’s always an opportunity to race in the 500 again – but if it doesn’t happen, that is fine too. I am happy with where I am at in that sense.
ASHLEY: That kind of ties into what I was wanting to ask next in what would you like to get behind the wheel of? One thing that comes to my mind would be SRX, being the booth commentary there and friendships.
JAMES: Yeah, that’s a phenomenal series. They have a great thing there and I was actually pretty lucky that I got to pat around in the cars that they were running at the race weekends I was in the booth for – so that’s a possibility. There’s a lot of stuff in SportsCars that I’d like to try. I’ve done Daytona 24 a bunch of times, but never done Sebring, Petit, Watkins – so some of that would be great. I’d love to do a road course race in a stock car, whether it’s Xfinity or Cup or whatever, just to get the chance to drive one of those things.
Those look a lot of fun on the road tracks, but things like that. There may be some stuff up in Canada, as well. There’s the Canadian NASCAR Series – the Pinty’s Series. (Alex) Tagliani has moved up there post-IndyCar career and had a great career still patting around and competitive. It’d be great to go bang wheels with him again.
ASHLEY: I remember there being a time where you were the Canadian face all open-wheel fans looked to. Now we’ve got both Dalton Kellett and Devlin DeFrancesco in IndyCar for 2022. What is it mean to see the Canadian presence growing?
JAMES: It’s great. It’s crazy over the few years that there’s been a handful of Canadians that got so close but didn’t quite get the opportunity – Parker Thompson, Scott Hargrove. I would have loved to have seen them continue in open-wheel. They’re both doing great big things in SportsCars now, so they’re doing fine. There’s a couple kids coming up that are very talented and we have high hopes for the future.
As a proud Canadian and a huge fan of the sport, I love seeing as much Canadian presence as possible and having Dalton and Dev on the grid this year is great. I’m jealous they get to race in Toronto after the past two years after not getting to do that. it’s one of the coolest things as a Canadian getting to race in your backyard, but I will be there cheering them on and watching. In this new role, I have a lot more time and capacity to get in the grassroots level of motorsports back home and help untrue, and encourage the Canadian talent right now.
ASHLEY: You’ve had a career with a lot of ups and downs. Given everything that you’ve experienced as you look back, what’s your advice to the next generation of Canadian racers who wish to get to where you are?
JAMES: It’s the advice that Greg Moore gave me when I asked him that question as a 12-year-old kid when I got to meet him racing go-karts, and that’s just don’t give up. This sport is pretty cut throat, pretty brutal, but it rewards the people that just keep fighting, slogging it out, looking for those opportunities, making those opportunities happen one way or another. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart.
It’s definitely not for people without a solid, sometimes crippling work ethic, but that’s what you have to do. Unless you can bank roll yourself from the start to the finish, you have to keep working hard and those opportunities will eventually appear for the people that are working hard and still standing.