Hinchcliffe earns highest score on 'Dancing with the Stars' memorable year night

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LOS ANGELES -- James Hinchcliffe talked about the horrifying crash in 2015 that almost took his life on Monday night's "Dancing with the Stars."

Then, performing the tango with partner Sharna Burgess, Hinchcliffe received the highest judges’ score of the night, 29 out of a possible 30.

The Verizon IndyCar Series driver let ABC viewers know about the accident on "most memorable year" night, the fifth week of Season 23 competition in which the stars performed dances based on significant moments in their lives. Hinchcliffe’s moment came May 18, 2015, when a suspension piece on his Indy car broke and he crashed into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway wall at more than 220 mph during Indianapolis 500 practice. A part of the suspension pierced his upper left thigh, striking an artery and causing substantial blood loss. Only through the quick work of the Holmatro Safety Team at the track and doctors and nurses from IU Health Methodist Hospital was his life saved.

Healthy and racing again, Hinchcliffe called the crash the “best thing that ever happened to me” in the pre-edited video package before he and Burgess danced.

Backstage after the show, he said, "So much of this week and the story that I wanted to tell wasn't about that something bad happened to me. It's what good came out of that and, 18 months ago, I don't think I would have agreed to do this show. But what I went through really changed my perspective on a lot of things and it opened me up to doing something a little bit outside my comfort zone. Or a LOT outside my comfort zone, depending on how you look at it."

After his dance, Hinchcliffe was surprised on the live broadcast by the trauma surgeon who helped save his life, Dr. Timothy Pohlman. In the pre-dance video package, Pohlman said that the normal survival rate for an injury the severity of Hinchcliffe’s was “zero” and that Hinchcliffe’s pulse was lost on the way to the operating room. A bond between life-saving surgeon and patient was developed that day, making Pohlman’s surprise appearance on the show that much more meaningful to Hinchcliffe.

"It was great, Dr. Pohlman and I have become buddies,” Hinchcliffe told Indycar.com. “One of the things that was really interesting for me in getting to know him after the fact was normally he's a trauma surgeon – someone comes in, he fixes them, they leave. They never see each other again.  He never gets to see his work.

“And in me, we created a friendship; we created a bond and we see each other regularly. We go to dinner, we drink Scotch together, he flew out here for this. My parents and him and his fiancée vacation together. We've become very good friends. For him, it's a bit of a point of pride. It's later in his career and he gets to see the fruits of his labor, so to speak, somebody that he saved is not only alive, back to doing his job. So it's a cool connection we have."

The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver said his near-death experience makes him "feel so lucky. I tell people that accident was a freak accident in a lot of different ways. The accident itself, the injury that came as a result of it and there were 20 things that had to go just wrong, at just the wrong time, for me to end up in that position.

“But there were a hundred things that had to go right for me to make it through that and, rather than thinking about all the bad luck that went into that situation, I think of all the good luck and it really makes me honestly believe that when it's your time, it's your time. For whatever reason, it wasn't my time and that's part of what kind of opened me up to just looking at life a little bit differently, looking at each day a little bit differently."

Hinchcliffe said he suffers no after-effects from the crash: "Just scars. I mean, I came back fitter than I was before I got in the accident," he said.

He admitted that he is constantly reminded of the accident "because it's affected my every day from that day forward, but the first couple of months were a lot of negative ways. Moving forward, I wake up every day with an attitude and an outlook on life that I wouldn't have had without it, so I'm reminded every day of all the good that came out of it."

Hinchcliffe mused that the accident might have been more difficult for his loved ones while he was hospitalized.

"By the time I came to and my memory really kicked in, we were past the worst,” the 29-year-old Canadian explained. “I was fortunate in a sense that I didn't have to live through the worst parts of it.

"That's why, when I woke up, I was almost a little blasé about the whole thing — I've been in an accident, I'm going to be OK, let's get on with the recovery. And everyone around me was still very somber and sullen and I couldn't understand why. It took me awhile to appreciate the severity of it and what everyone else went through that day. It wasn't just me that had a bad day."

Hinchcliffe is having nothing but good days on "Dancing with the Stars," consistently ranking at or near the top with the judges. Two judges, Carrie Ann Inaba and Bruno Tonioli, scored him a perfect 10 for Monday’s tango to “The Right Time” by Yves V. Only judge Julianne Hough, who rated Hinchcliffe a nine, failed to give it a perfect score. The next-highest judges’ score from the other eight couples remaining in the competition was a 27 for Terra Jole.

Judge Inaba raved about the performance, calling Hinchcliffe “a miracle, and I’m not just talking about surviving that crash. I’m talking about on the dance floor. As far as posture, hold, technique, you are the one to beat,” she said.

"The dance was great,” Hinchcliffe said. “We thought it was going to go well. Rehearsal went pretty well, but as we've had a couple times this season, show night was the best run that we'd had and right from the get-go, I think I had a smile on my face that I hadn't had in practice and it felt great. I think it looked pretty good and I'm so thrilled."

Having the highest judges’ score doesn’t guarantee security, however. Hinchcliffe and Burgess scored the second-best score a week ago, yet were in jeopardy of being eliminated when combined with fan votes. The next elimination occurs on the Oct. 18 ABC broadcast (8 p.m. ET), combining Monday’s scores with the all-important fan votes.

Online voting remains open until 8 p.m. ET today. You can vote for Hinchcliffe and Burgess at abc.com or the “Dancing with the Stars” Facebook page. To show your support for #TeamStopAndGo, order merchandise by clicking here.

Watch the emotional video package about Hinchcliffe's 2015 crash and his incredible tango with Burgess below.


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