SPEEDWAY – The Mayor was with his people, just like old times.
He got a few steps into Gasoline Alley and James Hinchcliffe was already swarmed. Autograph and “Selfie” seekers were out in full force as he made his way towards the Andretti Autosport garage about an hour before his run on Carb Day.
The attention didn’t stop as he eventually reached the garage, taking just under 45 seconds to meet with people before darting into the garage to put on his race suit for the one-hour session on Friday.
“It’s surprisingly normal,” said Hinchcliffe of his Month of May both on and off the track-even if it’s start was far from it.
About two weeks earlier some might not have imagined the young driver even being in the field of 33 for the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday. A bizarre concussion in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, suffered because of a piece of debris came out and hit him in the helmet, left his ability to race in doubt as he tried to recover enough to pass IndyCar’s protocol for the injury.
But thanks to the contributions of many, Hinchcliffe was able to not only make it back to the track in under a week but qualified second for Sunday’s race and narrowly missed the pole position.
“I got a lot of great care from everyone one at the track,” said an appreciative Hinchcliffe just before his Carb Day run on Friday.
He also got a little help off it as well.
After being initially cleared by doctors to resume light training, Hinchcliffe went to Pit Fit Training to help aid his recovery and possibly speed up his ability to return to full strength.
“He was very eager to get back in the call,” said PitFit owner and longtime motorsports trainer Jim Leo of Hinchcliffe. “He knew every day was valuable but as I could let him know, basically you can’t push through these things, you’ve got to follow what your body allows you to go through.
“Because the reccurance of a concussion in a situation like that could be very dangerous.”
So Leo and Hinchcliffe progressed carefully through the workouts, adhering to a protocol set forth by University of Cincinnati professor of neurology Dr. Joe Clark. Leo put Hinchcliffe through workouts on two different machines that test his reaction time through a series of lights.
One of these machines, a Dynavision D2, also tested Hinchcliffe’s ability to not only recognize flashing lights on the big board but also math equations that would pop up in a small monitor.
Leo said that he would monitor Hinchcliffe’s heart rate to make sure it didn’t go over 70 percent while also comparing his scores on the machines to those in which the driver had received in tests prior to the concussion. According to Dr. Clark’s protocol, a score ten percent lower than before a head injury meant there was still a risk that the concussion had yet to heal.
That never happened for Hinchcliffe, whose scores moved up quickly over the three days of work.
“It was all just confidence building for James as much as possible,” said Leo. “He came through, he felt good. We check his vestibular-which is his balance-and no problems there. Just standard protocols that we have done prior to concussion. We always test on these areas.
“He passed everything with flying colors.”
It showed when Hinchcliffe returned to the track strong on Thursday before qualifying. He ran himself into the Fast Nine on Saturday and then to the front row on Sunday as if nothing every happened.
“The designed a good program for me to start low and build up,” said Hinchcliffe of the PitFit workout. “We just wanted to make sure we didn’t push too hard, too soon. Went through all the different steps and everything felt great.”
Just like old times.