Well, that was certainly fantastic! James Hinchcliffe’s win at Long Beach was the icing on his comeback cake, and everybody loves cake, right? You’d have to be a heartless cyborg sent from the future to not feel a excited at this, and in case you are, no, my name isn’t Sarah Connor. You’ve got the wrong house.
As fantastic as this was for Hinch though, there was an equal but opposite feeling to be had for JR Hildebrand, who suffered a broken hand as a result of a last-lap collision with Hinch’s teammate, Mikhail Aleshin. Hildebrand, it seems, continues to live some bizzaro version of an Indycar career to Hinch.
Consider this: Hinch and Hildebrand each competed against each other in 2007 in Atlantics and in 2009 in Indy Lights. In the latter, Hildebrand was the series champion, Hinch finishing 5th. In 2010 couldn’t find a ride in the IndyCar series, so he races some ALMS before getting a 2 ride deal with Dreyer & Reinbold. Then the following year he was chosen as driver for Panther Racing, where he nearly won the Indy 500 as rookie before famously wrecking while trying to avoid Charlie Kimball, who had slowed ridiculously. Eventually Panther let him go, then they were no longer. He’s raced only at Indy the last three seasons, and has never finished on the podium for any race other than the ’11 Indy 500. His career seemed to have finally turned the corner when he got the opportunity to drive for ECR this year, but now on his second race he’s broken his hand.
In the same time period, Hinch has recorded 5 wins across nearly 100 races, driving for Andretti Autosport and Schmidt Peterson Racing. He replaced famously Danica Patrick in GoDaddy ads, and even more famously became only the second driver to don the glitter and guy-liner to compete on “Dancing With the Stars.” Hildebrand turned down an invitation to attend M.I.T., while Hinch has a podcast where he quizzes guests on “How Canadian are you?” Whether it’s talent, or luck, or personality, or a combination of all three, if you could go back 10 years and guess which of these two drivers would have the more successful racing career you might not have chosen Hinchcliffe.
Then again, you’d also have a time machine, so you could go forward to now and figure it out. And, just as I suspected, you really are a time traveling cyborg. So nevermind.
At any rate, I’m as big of a Hinch fan as anybody. So much so that I may often refer to my four children as “James”, “Hinch”, “Mayor”, and “Beard”. But that’s doesn’t mean there isn’t space left in my heart for a hard-luck guy like Hildebrand, who’s had a career seemingly defined not by wins and popularity but by very famous driving mishaps and how he gracefully handled them. I really do hope JR gets well soon.
Final Lap: Somewhere in this post the name “Charlie Kimball” was mentioned. Sigh. Kimball seems like a really nice fellow when he’s not behind the wheel, but. . .if he drove for Uber or Lyft, would you take that ride?