James Hinchcliffe, who normally is seen behind the wheel of the No. 5 Arrow Electronic Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, took a step outside of his comfort zone and became a contestant on Season 23 of the popular dancing reality show Dancing with the Stars, where he proved he could bedazzle people on the dance floor as well the dance floor.
Hinch was partnered with pro-dancer Sharna Burgess for the competition. The duo danced their way into the runner up spot just falling short of the Mirror Ball trophy to Olympian Gymnast Laurie Hernandez and her pro-dancer Val Chmerkovskiy. During the 11 weeks filming the show, Hinch had to relocate to Los Angeles where the show is filmed, while also juggling having to race in the IndyCar season finale at Sonoma in between weeks one and two of dancing. It still hasn’t registered with Hinch all he has accomplished while doing the show.
“I think it’s all a bit of a blur,” Hinch said. “Certainly the two-day finale was exhausting. Getting through Monday night was obviously big, then the 24-hour challenge and everything that went into Tuesday’s show was really just a very cool way to cap off what was an incredible season.
“If you had told me at the start that we would have ended up in the runner-up position, I wouldn’t have believed you. It was a huge, huge reward for a lot of effort that both Sharna and myself put in. I can’t thank her enough for all that effort and for being so good at her job to make me capable of being part of a team that got up that high in a very tough competition.”
The Canadian native says doing the show changed him for the better. He states that finishing runner up to an Olympic gymnast is pretty impressive for someone who has no prior knowledge of experience of ball room dancing. However, with no experience he showed America as well as the judges with the right teacher you can learn anything. He even got the praise of Julianne Hough after one of his late season performances where she stated that he was the best male dance that the show had ever seen.
“I have to give a ton of credit obviously to Sharna for having a teaching style that really resonated well with me, obviously just being very good at her job, choreographically, creatively,” Hinch adds. “It was a lot of hard work. I won’t lie. It was not something that came naturally. She’ll be the first to tell you that every Tuesday morning when we’re starting from scratch, it was pretty rough. But by putting in the hours, not being afraid of a little hard work, some long sessions, late nights, repeatedly watching videos trying to improve, it’s amazing what can happen.”
The 2011 IndyCar Rookie of the Year said that learning the choreography was hard as was dancing in front of millions of people. Beyond the physical nature of learning the dances, it was also hard because even though when he races there are huge crowds at the track, once in the car, he cannot hear them or see them like dancing on the stage.
“When you’re doing something in front of a live audience like that, it has an effect,” Hinch quoted. “The very first week, that was the biggest thing I took away from the show on Monday, was the sound. Every time you did a move that the crowd liked, they let you know about it. It kind of caught me off guard. I’m not used to hearing people cheer every time you make a pass on the track. You’re so hyper focused on what you’re doing. I had to teach myself to make sure it didn’t throw me off and have me forgetting steps. It really was just an element I wasn’t prepared for. I made the joke at the time, even though it’s serious, that I danced with one partner for my entire dancing career. It was a true statement.
During the show a lot of people from the racing community came to support Hinch, including Conor Daly and 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 champion Alexander Rossi as well as Hinch’s girlfriend Becky Dalts, who were seen in the audience week in and week out. Having their support motivated him to give it his all in every dance he performed.
“Honestly, the support from the motorsports world was incredible. Alex and Conor were at the first show,” Hinch continued. “They made it to a couple throughout. Charlie Kimball was there the last night. The amount of tweets of support from guys in the IndyCar paddock, guys in the NASCAR paddock, guys overseas, it was overwhelming. It was great to get that feedback and see that, A, they were watching, and B, they were supporting.
“I can’t thank just the drivers, but the fans, crew, officials, everybody in the motorsports world backed us and were such a big part of us making it to the finals in the first place. We’re just appreciative of that.”
Another supporter that came to the shows was fellow driver as well as Dancing with the Stars contestant Helio Castroneves. Castroneves was a contestant on season five of the show and was paired with Hough who is now a judge. Castroneves ended up winning the mirror ball trophy at the end of the season and you can bet that throughout the garage next year he will probably hold it over Hinch’s head that he won and Hinch was runner up.
“I’m never going to hear the end of this from him,” Hinch said. “I’m well aware of that. That’s fine. He did a tremendous job. He did what he had to do. He was able to walk off with the trophy. We were not quite able to do that, but I was at least up at the sharp end, so we can still be proud of the effort.”