Sports Hockey

IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe's heart is racing

By Ian Shantz, Toronto Sun

James Hinchcliffe and Rebecca Dalton sit together during the Honda Indy in Toronto last summer. (DAVE ABEL/TORONTO SUN)

James Hinchcliffe and Rebecca Dalton sit together during the Honda Indy in Toronto last summer. (DAVE ABEL/TORONTO SUN)

As an IndyCar star, James Hinchcliffe literally lives life in the fast lane.

His love life? That has been more of a slow burn.

But the wait has apparently been worth it and the Oakville-raised race-car driver is having a gas now — paired with someone he says truly understands him, and, most importantly, makes him laugh like no one else can.

As if lifted from a Hollywood romance script, Hinchcliffe and his partner’s love story has elements of serendipity and drama.

The drama being that their heart-filled path might never have been set if not for a late-breaking split ahead of one high school’s prom night in Oakville more than a decade ago, and the serendipity being a shared right-place-at-the-right time get-together as many years later.

The way Hinchcliffe describes it, as a teenager he shared mutual friends with Rebecca Dalton, a few years his junior. He had recently split up with a girl, but not before he had “already bought her a ticket for prom” at Oakville Trafalgar High School.

“So I called Becky a couple days before and said, ‘hey, I’ve got a ticket that’s already paid for, do you want to come?’ ”

She said sure. Rather, as Hinchcliffe said, “she rescued me.”

Despite enjoying prom together — and growing closer while being enrolled in the same extra-curricular acting class together as teens — both moved on, Hinchcliffe in pursuit of a racing profession, Dalton focused on an acting career.

“After I graduated, we kind of distantly stayed in touch via Facebook, what have you,” Hinchcliffe said.

More than a year ago, on the heels of a few months of texting back and forth, they were both in California at the same time for work. They met for dinner.

Hinchcliffe, well-known for his comedic stylings, and Dalton, the owner of a “wicked, wicked sense of humour,” according to her beau, spent the entire night, er, unofficial date, laughing.

“That’s what sealed the deal for us. We reconnected. We went out to dinner and we just cried with laughter for three straight hours,” Hinchcliffe said, adding, “the rest is history” and they’ve been happily dating since.

“We went 12 years without seeing each other,” Dalton told the New York Post in a story published last August. “Randomly, we would message each other through Facebook just to say, ‘Congratulations,’ because he always wanted to be a race-car driver and I always wanted to be an actress.”

Hinchcliffe said it’s important that the special someone in his life can appreciate and understand the demands of his career. Dalton, whose TV and movie credits include roles in such shows as Spun Out, Degrassi: Minis and Good Witch, appears to fall into that category.

“The hard thing for someone in my profession is the schedule that we keep and trying to find a partner that understands a job that’s kind of outside the 9-to-5 really can be difficult. That’s why I’m so fortunate that, in Becky’s career, being an actress, she gets it,” he said. “Her career is very similar in that sense. It’s a lot of up and downs, it could be a lot of travel, it’s a lot of uncertainty at times. Having somebody that understands that and has to go through the same thing, I think, makes us that much closer. Having that person to lean on when you’re going through something like that is huge.”

To lean on, and to crack jokes.

“We laugh all the time. There’s no doubt it helps,” he said. “We’ve all got stressful jobs and it helps when we can come home and know there’s someone to laugh at our crappy jokes or tell us a really good one.”

Hinchcliffe recently wrapped up a months-long commitment as a competitor on Dancing with the Stars, finishing as runner-up with dance partner Sharna Burgess. It begs the question: Has Dalton benefited from her boyfriend’s newfound swagger on the dance floor?

“I have promised her that we’ll take dance lessons together, because I didn’t dance with her at prom. I should probably dance with her at some point now,” Hinchcliffe said.

No dancing on prom night? Did the Dancing with the Stars runner-up forget his dancing shoes at home on prom night or something?

“I wasn’t a dancer, man. I didn’t know how to dance,” he said. Plus, being prom night and all, it was pretty much “boys on one side of the room, girls on the other.”

RACING FOR RATINGS

Why would a lead-footed 30-year-old from Oakville who claimed he hadn’t yet danced “a day in his life” go in front of millions to do exactly that?

For one, the recent opportunity to appear on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars was something new for race-car driver James Hinchcliffe, who is not far removed from a near-death experience on the track and has said to anyone who will listen that life is far too short for second-guessing.

But what the opportunity also presented for Hinchcliffe, who wears his IndyCar heart on his sleeve, was a chance to spread his own brand, but more importantly, he said, let people know about IndyCar.

“One of the big motivations for doing the show was to really help sell IndyCar and help spread the IndyCar message,” said Hinchcliffe, who wound up doing just fine on the dancing side of things, finishing as runner-up to Sharna Burgess. “We have such a great sport and such a great product. We just have a very narrow fan base at the (moment.)

“It put us in front of a mainstream audience that we don’t normally get to be in front of. Every Monday we were in front of two Indy 500s worth of viewers. There’s no way that that can hurt the cause.”

Hinchcliffe, who is entering his seventh IndyCar season, said he embraces the role of ambassador whenever possible.

“At the end of the day, I’m such a fan of this sport. I love motor racing. I love IndyCar racing. Anything that I can do, anything that I have in my control to help that cause, help that series grow, help people learn about IndyCar racing, become fans of IndyCar racing, I’m going to do,” he said