James Hinchcliffe is one of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ most entertaining personalities, but that doesn’t make him a confident dance machine.
The 29-year-old Canadian laughed about trading in his driver’s shoes to participate in “Dancing with the Stars.” The driver of the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda was announced today as the celebrity partner with professional dancer Sharna Burgess when Season 23 of the popular ABC competition show begins Sept. 12.
Hinchcliffe said it would be “an extreme stretch” to call him a dancer. He described his skills as “something lower than amateur.” He and Burgess were scheduled to begin practicing today.
“I consider myself dancing challenged, to be honest, so this is definitely going to be a unique sort of experience for me, definitely outside my comfort zone, and Sharna definitely has her work cut out for her,” Hinchcliffe said during a media conference call. “But I've got the competitive spirit and INDYCAR drivers have a pretty good record on this show, so hopefully that counts for something.”
Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves won the Mirror Ball Trophy in his 2007 show debut with pro partner Julianne Hough, then appeared again in 2012’s all-star cast.
“I spoke to Helio at length before I committed to doing the show,” Hinchcliffe said. “There were a lot of questions that I had, and luckily having a friend and colleague who had been through it was a huge benefit to me.
“He definitely explained a really fun opportunity. He thoroughly enjoyed it, so much he went back for a second time. It was great to get to chat to him and he warned me about the amount of work that it is, but said that it's going to be an awful lot of fun. He kind of helped me warm up to the idea.”
The competition this season includes Olympic gold-medal gymnast Laurie Hernandez, swimmer Ryan Lochte, singer-songwriter Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds and rapper-turned-home-improvement-show-host Vanilla Ice. The 13-star cast was announced this morning on “Good Morning America.”
Burgess and an ABC camera crew were at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday, filming Hinchcliffe in action in preparation for the show. “Dancing with the Stars” competition pairs judges’ votes with those of viewers to decide who advances each week.
Hinchcliffe will have to juggle his travel schedule. The series visits Watkins Glen International in upstate New York this weekend for the first time since 2010 before concluding with the season finale at Sonoma, Calif., on Sept. 18.
“Obviously I've got a day job, and that's the first and foremost priority at the moment,” he said. “The first two episodes are going to be the biggest challenge scheduling-wise, but once we clear Sonoma and clear Episode 2, if I've made it that far and stay on the show, then we'll have a much freer schedule and be able to dedicate 100 percent of myself to learning and improving and being competitive.
“But certainly up to that point, it's going to be a challenge with the races that we have coming up and the travel involved and all that.”
Hinchcliffe understands the importance of extending himself at the risk of embarrassment to promote INDYCAR.
“From a young age, I was counseled that this is the motorsports world that we live in and I've always just prepared myself for that. So I've not shied away from extra commitments,” he said. “I'm a very driven person on track and off, whether it's my racing or promoting the sport or outside business ventures I'm involved in. I like staying busy, I like staying active in that sense. This is a big part of our sport and is a huge help.
“This kind of thing, sure, it benefits me personally but it also benefits the sport. I've always said from Day 1 that anything that I can do outside of a race car to help grow the sport of Indy car racing is something you can sign me up for because I've got such a passion for this sport. I plan on being around it for a long time as a driver, for a long time after that as well, and I just love the fact that we've got the opportunity to do this kind of stuff and just try and help spread the word and show people that Indy car racing is an incredible form of sport.”
Hinchcliffe playfully sounded as if he had more reservations about leaving his Indianapolis home in the hands of roommate and fellow driver Conor Daly while training and competing for the show in Los Angeles.
“I have a tremendous concern,” Hinchcliffe said. “I've already set up a network of people that will be coming to check on him and the house in my absence.”