James Hinchcliffe

Even when he’s working for charity, James Hinchcliffe can’t help but be a competitor.

So it was when the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver volunteered Thursday to help pack nutritional meal bags bound for the Midwest Food Bank in Indianapolis. Hinchcliffe joined employees at the Clif Bar Baking Company, a new partner for the INDYCAR team, for their annual day of service.

Groups of Clif Bar employees formed assembly lines to pack, seal and load the meal bags consisting of rice, soy, dehydrated vegetables and a vitamin/nutrient powder. Each bag provides six servings. The Clif Bar group’s goal in its 24-hour day of service was to package 120,000 meals as part of the Million Meal Movement earmarked for food banks in central Indiana.

James HinchcliffeAt one point during Hinchcliffe’s volunteer stint, the three teams assembling bags competed in a race to see who could pack and load a full case of bags the fastest. With his team appropriately named “Hinch Clif” and including his girlfriend, actress Becky Dalton, the Canadian helped push them to victory.

Always seeking an advantage, Hinchcliffe studied how he could scoop and pour a cup of rice into the big in the most time-efficient way.

“I was assessing the situation, how could I angle my hand a little differently to get the rice in a bit faster after the soy (that Dalton scooped and poured in the bag),” Hinchcliffe said. “You make a competitive game out of it and we actually did a little time trial against two other teams, and our team won.”

While winning was fun, the 30-year-old driver in his seventh Verizon IndyCar Series season was well aware of the overriding purpose of the event: to help those in Indiana who need help feeding their families. The meal bags will be distributed through local food banks to some 60 Indiana counties.

“This is my adopted hometown, so being able to come out here with the company that’s doing some great things for the area and to be able to be a part of that and help some families in need is really cool,” Hinchcliffe said.

The partnership with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports came about through the desire of Clif Bar – maker of energy bars and other healthy-food choices – to improve its manufacturing process.

“We run high-speed manufacturing lines,” explained Dave Tintelnot, general manager of the Indianapolis facility. “We wanted to look at how we can change it from (taking) two hours to get it down to one hour. We took our teams down to watch their pit stop practices, we started sharing product with them and it’s a good partnership.”

Tintelnot added that community service is part of the culture at Clif Bar.

“We want to give back to the community where we live, work and play,” he said. “We just started this facility a year ago here in town so the easiest way for us to get (others) familiar with the Clif culture was to start community service. That’s how we started the 24-hour meal marathon.

“As important to us as sustaining the business is sustaining the community.”

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James Hinchcliffe