To bump or not to bump.
That question seems to be on many minds after popular Verizon IndyCar Series driver James Hinchcliffe failed to make the field for Sunday's 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
How he got there — or in this case, how he didn't get there — is unimportant. And in all respects, the rules that ensured that the No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda won't start Sunday's race are also irrelevant. Bottom line is that Hinchcliffe and the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports squad knew the risks they were taking and it didn't work out for them.
Now, we can argue the merits of locked-in teams, expanding the field and buying a ride all month, but what's really the key to everything here is Hinchcliffe's reaction to being on the outside looking in.
The first thing out of his mouth after being bumped from “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” was a defense of fellow driver Pippa Mann, who got her No. 63 Dale Coyne Racing Donate Life Honda onto the track ahead of Hinchcliffe near the end of Saturday qualifying. Time ran out before Hinchcliffe could try to improve his time and bump back into the field of 33.
Hinchcliffe had a succinct message for those who pointed to Mann as the culprit: “Keep your mouth shut.”
His reaction to the bump day disappointment reminded me of the early days of Hinchtown.com, his eponymous website that's been going strong almost 15 years. Back in 2006 when he was racing in Formula Atlantics, he and his Team Forsythe teammates had a disastrous weekend in Monterrey, Mexico, where they could not find anything to make the cars competitive.
Rather than rant about their shortcomings, Hinchcliffe analyzed the situation carefully and developed a groundbreaking tool on his website to help the team at the next race, called the “Revolutionary New Dartboard Setup Helper.”
Essentially, it was a dartboard with setup suggestions written next to each of the numbers, with different degrees of change in each wedge. It came with custom-made darts for each of the engineers. The idea was that if the drivers couldn't help the engineers make the cars faster, maybe this would.
That episode 13 years ago showed how Hinchcliffe wasn't going to project his failures onto others. It also demonstrated he knew that his success or failure in the cutthroat world of motorsports was solely on him.
Don't get me wrong, Hinchcliffe is like any other racing driver inside the car: He wants to win. Badly. And he works as hard anyone to make that happen. But it's outside his car where he really sets himself apart.
He understands and respects the traditions and history of racing, he's a tireless promoter of the Verizon IndyCar Series and he's never met a fan who walked away without a selfie, autograph or a simple “thank you” for their support.
Last weekend, he raised the bar. Again.
It would have been easy to get mad and focus on the driver who “got in the way.” Instead, Hinchcliffe looked deep inside himself and ensured the weight rested squarely on his shoulders.
“The purist in me, the motorsport enthusiast in me, thinks this is good for the sport,” he said after the bump played out and it meant he'd miss the biggest race of the year. “That's more important than what's good for James Hinchcliffe today.”
I'm betting nobody understands that sentiment more than Pippa Mann.
And I'd also wager that Hinchcliffe made more new fans with those words than he'd ever lose by not making it into this year's Indianapolis 500.