@Hinchtown Gets It
If you listened to Trackside last Thursday night, you experienced a treat. Not that it isn’t a treat to listen to our friends Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee, but they gave us an added bonus when they had driver James Hinchcliffe join them in the studio. Kevin Lee pointed out that he wished a long driving career for Hinchcliffe because he was sure he would be taking his job on the broadcast side when he was done racing. He wasn’t really joking, because he’s that good. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb to say that a good portion of the fate of the IZOD IndyCar Series rests with Hinchcliffe.
The thing that’s so good about the Mayor of Hinchtown is not an easy thing to put your finger on. Is it because he’s an excellent young driver? Perhaps it’s because he’s articulate and has a personality that resonates with different generations of fans. Could it be that he is a sponsor and marketer’s dream? Maybe it’s because he is so adept to social media and keeps the fans engaged. The answer to all of these is “Yes”.
On the driving front, James Hinchcliffe has accomplished quite a bit in his young driving career. He missed the first race of his rookie season in 2011 due to the fact that his sponsorship deal came about too late to make the grid at St. Petersburg. Still, he managed to finish twelfth in the final 2011 standings even with a DNS. But he became an unwilling free-agent when his team, Newman/Haas Racing, unexpectedly shut their doors last December after twenty-nine years. Dan Wheldon had been slated to drive the Go-Daddy car for 2012 that was being vacated by Danica Patrick. When Wheldon was fatally injured in the 2011 season finale, Michael Andretti turned to Hinchcliffe to fill the unfortunate vacancy.
Even though Wheldon never drove the Go-Daddy car, Hinchcliffe had high standards to live up to. He didn’t disappoint. After qualifying second for the Indianapolis 500, he finished sixth and finished the month of May second in points. His first five races produced three sixth place finishes along with a fourth and a third. Hinch hit a slump in the summer where he had three finishes lower than twentieth. But in that stretch was a fourth at Texas, a third at Milwaukee and a fifth at Mid-Ohio. He finished eighth in points this past season. Most second-year drivers would be satisfied with that, but you sense that Hinchcliffe wants more – and that’s a good sign. I think that we’ll see more in 2013.
But James Hinchcliffe is the entire package. At the ripe age of twenty-five, he has co-hosted Wind Tunnel and now Trackside. The Canadian did more than hold his own on both occasions. Instead, he raised the bar and made those quality shows even more entertaining than usual. Go-Daddy is not the easiest company to promote. You need to be more than hip. You need to come off as being a “cutting edge” type person as well as very likeable, witty and personable. Whether in NASCAR or IndyCar, I think that Hinch is the first driver they have sponsored that hits on all counts. Mark Martin and Danica Patrick each hit some of those traits, but fell short with others. With Hinchcliffe, the website domain company has hit a homerun.
Not all drivers utilize social media as well as they could. The two IndyCar drivers that I think understand how best to use social media are Pippa Mann and James Hinchcliffe. Hinch understood it before he was sponsored by Go-Daddy. He interacts with fans on a daily basis, as does Pippa. While some drivers do a very good job utilizing Facebook and Twitter, they could all take cues from these two. Follow them on Twitter at @PippaMann and @Hinchtown. If you want to see an example on how NOT to use social media, you may follow me on Twitter at @Oilpressureblog
On Trackside the other night, Curt Cavin asked Hinchcliffe how often he just wants to turn it all off and push away from it all. Hinch came back with the perfect answer which tells me why he will be a fan favorite for a long time. He told Curt that he never wanted to turn it off. He said he understands that the fans he interacts with are why he has a job. He explained that he was once a fan and when he was a kid, he was the one that stood outside a driver’s trailer with a Sharpie hoping to get an autograph. He went on to say that he is still amazed when he steps out of his trailer and sees kids waiting on his autograph. His first instinct is to tell them that they’ve got the wrong trailer – Dario’s trailer is down just a bit further. Such humility is a rare thing among stars in professional sports.
James Hinchcliffe gets it. Among all of the many good things I can say about this young driver, probably the most important is that he understands that without the fans, there is no IndyCar. He said he is mystified by drivers who think they are out there performing for themselves. He understands he is out there performing for the fans. It’s a shame that not all factions related to IndyCar realize this.
With a lot of the negative energy that has been coming out of the IndyCar front office lately, it’s refreshing to listen to the enthusiasm of a driver like James Hinchcliffe. It reminds me that there is a future for the IZOD IndyCar Series. The Mayor of Hinchtown gets it.