LONG POND, Pa. >> James Hinchcliffe just tried to act like a friendly tourist during a visit to Philadelphia. When he saw four people on a city sidewalk trying to squeeze into a selfie frame in front of Independence Hall, Hinchcliffe volunteered to snap the photo for them.
Turned out, just blocks from Ben Franklin’s grave, Betsy Ross’ house and the Liberty Bell, the top attraction was the guy holding the iPhone.
“Hey, wait a minute, aren’t you …”
Yes, one of the women in the group instantly recognized the former “Dancing With The Stars” contestant.
“The first thing this lady said to me was, ‘We were so mad you didn’t win!’ It’s just so funny how invested they get in the show,” he said.
Hinchcliffe and his professional partner Sharna Burges were runner-ups last November in the popular dance competition television series. “Hinch” has noticed an uptick in getting recognized since he freestyled his way into the national spotlight. His dancing shoes came with some perks — they put him one-step closer to living like an A-lister ; well, maybe at least an easier time scoring a reservation at the latest hot spot.
“If you want to go somewhere, they return your phone call. That’s the big difference,” he said, laughing. “It’s not just, ‘Who?’”
The 30-year-old Hinchcliffe, out of Ontario, Canada, was already a popular presence around the IndyCar paddock. He’s the Mayor of Hinchtown and his comeback from a life-threatening injury two years ago at Indianapolis Motor Speedway earned him deeper respect among his peers.
But there are still a few more goals Hinchcliffe would like to reach that would mean more than any Mirrorball Trophy. He heads into Sunday’s race at Pocono Raceway looking for his second victory of the season and his first multi-win season since 2013. He wants to firm up his future with Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports and he still has an eye on landing a ride in NASCAR’s second-tier Xfinity Series.
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Download and subscribe to his podcast, “The Mayor On Air.” Hinchcliffe was set to tape his latest episode from the Pocono infield on Saturday night with his guests, fellow IndyCar drivers Marco Andretti and Will Power. Hinchcliffe loves the informal Q&As with some of his best friends that showcase a different side of the drivers to a fan base he works tirelessly to build.
“When you watch on TV, all you see is a helmet, a car and going in circles,” he said over a plate of fish tacos. “You don’t learn a lot about the people. For us, social media has been a huge tool, a huge aid in getting our personalities out there.”
IndyCar CEO Mark Miles keeps pestering Hinchcliffe for a spot on the show.
“I’m a bit nervous to have the boss on,” he said, laughing.
His most popular requests from fans aren’t the drivers.
“Gotta get the WAGs,” he cracked.
Hinchcliffe’s “Dancing” fame surely lifted him into a higher tax bracket — and even a bit of new zip code. He had a guest spot on the crime-solving series “Private Eyes” directed by former “Beverly Hills 90210” star Jason Priestley. Hinchcliffe has appeared on “Celebrity Family Feud,” developed his own beer brands — the Hinchtown Hammerdown and The Bricks — and is a partner in a Toronto-based video production company.
He had a spot on another TV entertainment show fall through at the 11th hour.
“I think we’re actually going to see another IndyCar guy on it,” he said. “When that happens, you’ll know what I’m talking about.”
Hinchcliffe’s season, his seventh, has had more up-and-downs than the steps in his “Dancing” jazz routine. He won a three-lap shootout to the finish in April on the streets of Long Beach for his first victory since 2015 at New Orleans, a month before his accident at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He’s had three podium finishes but scored a DNF in three others and is well out of championship contention in 10th place in the standings.
He’s also a free agent and but seems likely to return for a third season in the No. 5 Honda.
“Sure, you’d like to have your contract sorted, a month ago, ideally,” he said. “We’re not too antsy just yet. Continuity is a huge thing in motorsports. There’s a lot to be said for building up a program you’ve been in for a while. This team is really poised to kind of make that jump. We’re right there with the big guys. I think we’re making the right moves behind the scenes to make that happen. So in a lot of ways, it would be great to stay.”
Hinchcliffe also wants to try again at securing a NASCAR ride after an agreement with Jack Roush and sponsor GoDaddy collapsed in 2013.
“Some political stuff came up. Killed the whole deal,” he said. “We’re trying to get that back. We’ve never found the right mix.”
Until then, he’ll keep his feet on the gas and not the dance floor — at least until he’s a groomsman in Andretti’s upcoming wedding.
“It’s Hinch,” Andretti said. “He’s a great guy.”