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Andretti Autosport driver James Hinchcliffe laughs with his crew during practice time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis May 25, 2012. (BRENT SMITH/Reuters)
Andretti Autosport driver James Hinchcliffe laughs with his crew during practice time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis May 25, 2012. (BRENT SMITH/Reuters)

Motorsports

James Hinchcliffe’s rocky road to racing respect Add to ...

“We knew we needed to make a website, so we looked at every driver website we could find to see what we liked and didn’t like and came to two conclusions,” Hinchcliffe said. “First, they were all exactly the same and second, they all sucked. They were so boring and plain and it was almost like there was some template of a driver’s website: Here’s pictures of me, here’s all the trophies I have one and here’s a button you can click if you want to sponsor me, as if that ever works.”

Soon after the flagship website hit cyberspace in early 2006, the “Mayor of Hinchtown” made his appearance. It stuck, although some early visitors thought he was a politician, Now in its sixth iteration, the website was the key driver in building the Hinchcliffe brand, serving as a platform to showcase his almost eccentric style.

Hinchcliffe fastened strips of silver duct tape to the tops of each racing boot and wrote “Stop” on the left and “Go” on the right in black marker. Most race drivers at the top levels use both feet to drive the car, braking with their left foot and hitting the throttle with the right.

While the words remain, Hinchcliffe no longer needs the tape since today’s established IndyCar driver version is a bit more sophisticated with the “Stop” and “Go” labels now embroidered in white thread.

Although his early website was rudimentary by today’s standards, it got the point across. “Hinchtown 6G” still lets his personality shine through, albeit in a more refined package that includes with videos, contests, merchandise, and even a mobile app.

There’s also no doubt that the inspired move to the web that the 26-year-old made years ago played a key role in attracting high-profile sponsor Go Daddy to the table which, in turn, landed the Canadian a ride with one of the top IndyCar teams, Andretti Autosport.

There’s also a tragic side to this story. The Go Daddy car was originally slated to go to two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon, of England, who had signed to drive with the Andretti Team for 2012. He died in a massive, multi-car crash early in the 2011 IndyCar season finale.

The seat in the No. 27 car became free at the end of 2011 when Go Daddy driver Danica Patrick announced a move from IndyCar to NASCAR.

When Go Daddy began looking for drivers who would become its next spokesperson, the first thing it did was look at all the candidates’ websites. There was no doubt that Hinchtown stood above the rest.

“Hinch was the right driver at the right time for us. Hinch understands technology and the value of social media, which he uses to engage fans,” said Barb Rechterman, Go Daddy’s chief marketing officer. “Hinch has a keen sense of business acumen, which is very attractive. He’s been great to work with and exciting to watch. I can’t think of anyone who could have had more fun handling the pressure of taking over Danica’s IndyCar ride.”

Hinchcliffe is certainly not the first racer to use business acumen to get to the top. Fellow IndyCar driver Justin Wilson sold shares in himself a decade ago to help find his first ride in Formula One with the Minardi team. At the time, the 2001 FIA International Formula 3000 (now GP2) champion got a couple of tests in F1, but couldn’t get a team to commit to him.

So, Wilson came up with his novel plan and went back to try to land a Grand Prix seat for 2003 after his personal Initial Public Offering raised some much-needed cash.

“I went back to the same F1 teams 12 months later and said, ‘I’ve got $2-million can I drive your car?’ and they couldn’t get me through the door fast enough,” he chuckled.

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