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Best of 2012: Inspiring moment with the Mayor of Hinchtown

Canadian racer shows grace in face of engine misfire at Toronto Indy.

Published December 25, 2012

As an enthusiastic observer of motorsport in its many forms, I sorted through many memories from this past season to select the one that stood out most. And there were plenty of great moments to choose from.

But the story I keep coming back to is one of a moment much more quiet and subdued.

In fact, this story didn’t involve the roar of an engine at all — quite the opposite.

I recall standing at Oakville native James Hinchcliffe’s pit stall at the Honda Indy Toronto, with about 30 other reporters and camera people, watching and waiting.

His engine had picked up a misfire on track, and his team had called him in so they could assess the issue.

For five long minutes, Hinchcliffe sat in the cockpit while his team tinkered. They fired the engine, shut it down, took the cowling off, fiddled with some wiring, fired it up, shut it off again.

In the meantime, Hinchcliffe sat stiff as a statue, so tense he could have snapped. Through those five long minutes, he can’t have moved more than twice.

As seconds passed and laps ticked on, my thoughts couldn’t help but turn to the promise of the week before. The latest young Canadian seeking success in IndyCar racing was returning home, and for the first time he had a car and a team with a proven winning record. People were excited. The hope was palpable.

But it was not to be that day. The engine was shut down for a final time, and Hinchcliffe was prompted to climb out of the car.

When he pulled his helmet off, Hinchcliffe — who typically comes off as an affable class clown type — looked disappointed to his core, as though someone had punched him in the gut and stolen his puppy.

Then his team got a hold of him, the PR machine took over, he started saying all the right things and mentioning sponsors, and the moment was gone.

But in the brief time before the sanitizing began, I was reminded of what led me to motorsport as a child: raw emotion, local heroes, hope and heartbreak, the drive to succeed above all and the despair when it fails to pan out.

The chance to live vicariously through those braver and more talented than us is the primary purpose of any sport. Sadly, in today’s world, those simple moments of humanity can be disappointingly hard to come by.

I was grateful to be part of one such moment that day.

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