As a racing car driver – No. 5 for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in the Verizon IndyCar Series – James Hinchcliffe is used to taking risks on the track.
He’s also known as a fun, affable guy off the track who doesn’t take himself too seriously. So, it probably won’t take much coaxing to get him onto the dance floor at ‘The RALLY Toronto’- a cancer fundraiser planned for next Thursday, July 13, at The Fermenting Cellar in the Distillery District.
After all, he did grab second place last year on ABC’s Dancing With The Stars.
“If that (dancing) can raise a little extra cash, than we’ll do it,” Hinchcliffe says with a laugh about the event that will kick off the Honda Indy Toronto weekend.
The money raised will be split between two cancer charities: WMFC (Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia Foundation of Canada), of which his mother, Arlene Hinchcliffe, is president; and Racing for Cancer, a non-profit public charity founded by IndyCar champion and Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, who will co-host the event with Hinchcliffe.
“This is an event that’s being thrown by Ryan and myself,” Hinchcliffe said in an interview. “It’s got that personal level (and) even for the other drivers, they come because they want to and they want to support us. They want to support the cause.”
For Hinchcliffe and his mom, Arlene, the cause is also personal.
“We figured he had it for 20 years,” Arlene Hinchcliffe says of her father’s rare blood cancer – WM for short – that claimed his life in 1996.
“They had no real way of determining what the problem was, so it took a couple of years before it was actually diagnosed.
“They really didn’t know how to treat it properly, at the time.”
Since then, huge strides have been made in understanding both the disease and avenues of treatment. Arlene, who also established a support group in the decades since her father’s death, is optimistic.
“We like to say for the most part that people will pass away with Waldenstrom’s – not necessarily from it,” she says, encouragingly.
Relentless in raising awareness and research funds for the blood cancer (the disease is a thickening of the blood caused by a protein buildup that chokes the bone marrow and blood-producing cells), she notes that life expectancies for people with WM has increased since the late 1990s and she credits scientists like Princess Margaret Hospital’s Dr. Christine Chen for giving people living with WM hope.
“It’s quality of life, it’s length of life – it’s all those things, for sure,” her son notes. “It’s one of those things that if caught and treated appropriately can be relatively manageable.”
The tenacious IndyCar racer is amazed by his mother’s drive to help others.
“Right from day one, she saw that a support group wasn’t around when he (his grandfather) was diagnosed with WM and as soon as we lost him, that became goal number one,” he says.
“She worked to do that and give a lot of hope and information and education to people who were suffering from WM because it is a kind of a small, rare disease and there isn’t a lot of information out there. For those people, just the formation of the support group alone was such a huge help and a comfort to them.”
Over the years, Arlene Hinchcliffe – a den-mom-like fixture on the Indy circuit – has shepherded the WM foundation in Canada into a full-fledged charity (they receive no government funding or support).
Co-host Ryan Hunter-Reay also has a personal connection to The RALLY. His mom, who was from Hamilton, died of cancer, leading him to start Racing For Cancer, a U.S.-based charity that’s donated more than $4-million to various causes and cancer centres since its inception in 2010.
“I’ve got a lot of time for Ryan as a racing driver and I’ve got a lot of time for Ryan as a person,” Hinchcliffe – who won this year’s Long Beach GP and took third in Detroit – says.
“And we’re going to have disagreements on track – it’s happened before and it’s going to happen again – but at the end of the day, I think we’ll be okay and always be friends because of that.”
It goes without saying that both are gunning for a win in Toronto – although there’s no doubt about where Arlene Hinchcliffe’s loyalties lie.
“We were over the moon last year when he got his third-place finish (at the Honda Indy) – his first time on the podium (in Toronto),” she enthuses.
“For him, obviously Toronto is where his heart is. To win here, I always say, ‘they’ll hear it across Canada because I’ll be screaming’.”
The RALLY Toronto, Thurs., July 13, 2017 6:30 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.
The Fermenting Cellar, 28 Distillery Lane, Toronto.
Tickets : $150
(The evening will include an open bar, cocktail reception, small plates, dinner, silent and live auction and live entertainment.)