James Hinchcliffe is an Indianapolis 500 pole sitter and will be one of the lead announcers on this weekend’s broadcast as he commentates on the 2023 Indy 500.
The Canadian driver stopped competing full-time in IndyCar at the end of 2021 but still dabbles, most recently driving Honda’s IndyCar-engined SUV nicknamed The Beast.
He has also become one of the most respected commentators in US motorsport, and is quickly establishing himself on F1 TV, too.
With a diverse racing and TV career, Hinch was the perfect person to discuss what’s in his essentials bag with Podium Life before this weekend.
If there’s one item you forgot that you couldn’t live without, what would it be?
I really don’t like missing flights! If it’s just a race weekend, I’m pretty sure I could get by without any one thing.
Do you carry anything superstitious either now or when you were racing full-time?
No, those guys are nuts! There’s one driver who has a laundry list of those types of things, like which underwear and what order his shoes go on and the gloves and the suit and the car, the belt and stuff.
I’m not going to mention Tony Kanaan by name. But I said to him one day, he was like, ‘I can’t wear a new suit in a race, it’s got to be something I’ve at least worn in a practice or a test before’. And I said ‘Tony, if you think that what kind of suit you’re wearing, or the order you put your gloves on affects the outcome of this race, I want you to stay the hell away from me on a track!’.
And so he kind of took it to heart. We had this race in Long Beach, I think it was like 2012 or 2013. He was starting like 18th or 20th, something terrible. I was like, ‘why don’t you try putting on a new suit for the race?’. He was like ‘OK, fine, I don’t have anything to lose’. He started 20th in the new suit and finished on the podium! I’m superstitious about not being superstitious!
Technology has offered an alternative to sticking sheets of handwritten notes to the commentary booth, but some people still prefer that. Where do you stand?
I guess I’m part of the quote-unquote, younger generation, because I have all that information, but it’s on an iPad. It’s a cool thing, you can have like 40 pages of information in one place.
And it’s funny because Townsend [Bell, co-commentator] prints, we get these stat packs before every race. You read through that, you don’t have to memorize it, but you have a good understanding of where we are in the season, and who’s done what, and then maybe some track or event specific things, whatever.
It’s probably 15 pages and Townsend prints out every single page and it’s just sitting there and it’s nice and neat on Friday morning and then by Saturday afternoon it’s just this bomb went off of pages and papers, certain ones have to be taped up to the wall, certain ones are taped to the desk and all this stuff.
I’ll just sit there and be like page six (makes a bing noise) you want this one? here! So it’s kind of funny to see the difference.
I have the Pro, like the 12.9 inch, because again it’s the more information I can get on one page the better.
Are you still carrying your race helmet and gear to race weekends?
I think last year I did a little more just in case. At least I’ve got a helmet on the Honda truck for that stuff.
Nowadays, just because of my commitments to NBC, a race weekend call up is not really realistic for me. So I don’t think I’d be caught off guard by not having my stuff.
Can you tell is the story of the iconic gloves you wear and why that means so much to you?
Pretty much every year of my career minus one because I was forced to, I wore red gloves because of Greg Moore.
He was just famous for having red gloves, no matter what color suit he had or car he had, it was red gloves. Because superheroes wear red gloves, and he was my hero. So it just kind of worked.
It’s something that’s permeated Canadian motorsports in such a cool way that, drivers that weren’t even born when Greg was racing, still carry that tradition on. I tried to do it and Robbie Wickens tried to do it and Dan Morad, all these Canadian drivers.
It’s sort of our calling card now. I was a Sparco guy for most of my career. So that was always fun to get a fresh new pair of red Sparcos in the mail and have a good weekend.
We’re guessing your morning routine is a bit different now than it was before a race you would drive in?
Yeah, it’s a bit more straightforward. But it’s also like my days are a little less structured. I have a lot more free time in between sessions. So if the cars are on track, we’re in the booth. That’s the rule.
You give yourself a half hour on either side, kind of make sure of that. But then anything outside of that time, it’s really free time to do your job.
So I just walk around the paddock and I walk around the garages and try to run into drivers or engineers or team owners or whatever, and just kind of get those little bits of information that pop up on the broadcast.
So I can kind of dictate my schedule a little more. I don’t have time for naptime anymore [Hinch would always nap before an IndyCar race]. That’s not an acceptable part of the day!
What else is in your bag. (Eyeing up Hinch’s Tag Heuer) Are you into your watches?
Yeah, so I’m a big watch guy. I’ve got this travel case that I can bring two watches in so I can have three on a weekend.
So you kind of pick out your three for that weekend, depending on what you’re doing or where you’re going, or do you have any events or anything like that. So it sort of depends on the week on that one. But it’s cool to have that option and not just have one for the whole weekend.
Can you pick a favorite?
It’s too hard to pick one. Like one is my favorite because in 2015 they started giving out watches when you win a race. So I’ve got a couple that I won. So those ones are special because they’re like trophies. They’re all Tags.
And then I have a Glasshutte Moonphase which was a 30th birthday present from my parents.
That one’s kind of special to me. I wear that one on special occasions and that’s probably my favorite, if I had to pick one.
We see your backpack sitting there. Talk us through it.
So my Ogio backpack, you say if I were to forget something and have to go back? It’s this. If I don’t have this, I’m lost. And what I love about this is everything is in a specific place. I can go in there blindfolded and get anything and that’s how I need it.
I always travel with a snack like a bar of something because if when you’re on planes and they get delayed, you don’t know when you’re getting your next meal.
I have my backup battery thing here which is, this is one of the coolest things I found in the last few years. So extra battery pack right? But it’s got your USB-C, your normal like iPhone Lighting. It’s wireless charging. It also has a plug for each and it just charges up, I plug it in the wall.
It kind of eliminates the need for cords. It looks kind of corny and cheesy and something you’d see like ‘get this for your dad for Father’s Day’ on Facebook or something. But that thing was called a Snap. That’s been a bit of a game changer. Honestly, I bought one for my wife and my brother-in-law and everybody.
All my passport, credentials. Anything super important goes in this pocket, books, chargers in here, headphones pens, Tide To Go just in case you spill something on yourself, that’s done there. My little medical kit, so I got like band aids and hand sanitizer and stuff. And then my food pocket. I always keep just case.
My entire life is in here. Laptop and iPad in the back. So that’s that’s how I travel.
What about shoes?
I’ve kind of getting into sneakers a little bit lately which is bad. So I have to have one pair of cool kicks in the suitcase and then you got your race day year for being on TV or whatever.
So shout out to Piloti Shoes because they have supplied all three of us with a bunch of shoes for the year. So that’s great. They kind of send us an array so you can choose. I always have to travel with Altoids.
How long have you had the backpack?
Since 2014. So this thing has been traveling around the world for 10 years. I have another exact same one of these, this model of bag ready to go for when this one finally shits the bed.
But I just, I’m hanging on to it until the absolute bitter end. But it’s the exact same bag. My wife’s like, you need to get something a little nicer than this. You’ve had that for 10 years like you’re just going to school every day. That’s totally fair. But every like Tumi backpack or some like nice fancy thing, not really my style anyway, but they don’t have all the pockets I need for everything to be perfectly placed. So I just kind of refuse to move on.
What about sunglasses?
Sunglasses I’m not too big on. I’ve got two. The Ferragamos are nice.
I also have my backup rubber wedding ring in case I get in a car. Because I don’t like driving without one in the car. So that’s always with me just in case.
Are you fussy about what headphones you use?
I’m not super fussy. I’ve got the normal AirPod Pros. I’ve got the Maxes as well. If I’m going on a longer flight, I’ll definitely pack those. They’re a little bulkier so it depends on how much stuff I gotta stuff into this bag. I’m obsessed with only having a carry on bag. So if it’s a week or 10 day trip, I’ll still do a carry on.
Anything else in the bag?
Jason Scott, I don’t work with them, I just buy their stuff. I think they’ve sent me a shirt or two for a post kind of thing, but it’s just friendly. They’ve got some of the nicest t-shirts in the world and sweaters, you always have to travel with a sweater because planes are inherently freezing, even though wherever you’re going could be super hot.