Jon Beekhuis knows fairly well what happened to IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe in Monday’s practice crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as best as possible given the circumstances.
Beekhuis, who serves as a pit reporter for both ABC and NBCSN’s Verizon IndyCar Series coverage, spoke to the Indianapolis Star’s Curt Cavin on Tuesday’s edition of “Trackside” on 1070 the Fan radio in Indianapolis and provided further insight.
The full 14-minute interview is worth a listen, but here are a few excerpts of note.
Beekhuis offered his viewpoint as a former driver (he is the 1988 Indy Lights champion and raced portions of four years in CART), and addressed a point in his own career where he had an accident at Michigan International Speedway more than 20 years ago that was similar to Hinchcliffe’s.
“We’re certainly well aware that it was a suspension failure,” Beekhuis told Cavin about what caused Hinchcliffe’s wreck.
“I’ve had the very same thing happen – it was a push rod as opposed to a rocker (arm), but it’s the same dynamic. I was at Michigan, 230 mph turning into Turn 3, and it just popped. Almost an identical situation. The car drops on the ground, you have no steering, no brakes, you have very little time to think about it.
“Essentially, at these kinds of G forces, it’s like being a rock at the end of a string. You spin it around until you get to the G force level, and if one of those suspension components breaks, it’s essentially like the string breaks. Nothing is holding you, you’re just straight up to the wall.
“The impact in my case, and I think Eddie (Cheever) has had something similar, and of course the really sad part for Hinch was just the angle that he hit at punched that wishbone up through the tub.
“Still, it’s amazing with the safety technology that you can survive that, but he would have obviously survived that much better had not the puncture wound (occurred). It was very scary.”
Hinchcliffe crashed during practice Monday and suffered injuries that left him in critical condition when he was admitted to IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.
He underwent surgery shortly after the crash. After two days in the Intensive Care Unit, Hinchcliffe, 28, was transferred out on Wednesday, is listed in stable condition and is expected to make a complete recovery.
Up to this point, there have been no reports that Hinchcliffe lost consciousness after the crash. But Beekhuis has an interesting perspective on that.
“I was in a similar situation,” he said. “I’m pretty sure I was unconscious for some period of time. They asked me in the emergency room if I was unconscious, and I said, ‘Well, not that I know of,’ and they found that humorous, some emergency room humor.
“But of course a driver always answers that because you know if you’ve had a concussion, that you’re out (of competition). That’s much different in Hinch’s case because it was extremely serious. In my case, I was hoping to get back in a car, but I had a broken hand, so that wasn’t going to happen anyway.
“At least from what I’ve read, and I haven’t spoken to the medical team, but it sounds like he was conscious. But I would imagine with that kind of lick, he certainly would have some concussive injury, one would think.”
While hoping for the best that Sunday’s race is incident-free – or if there are incidents, that they are minor in nature – Beekhuis admits he’s concerned about what may happen in the 500.
“We’re always concerned,” he said. “Even without aero kits, before any Speedway event, we all know that in real-world environments, strange things can happen. We’re always concerned going into events like this.
“We need to hope and pray that the race downforce, that the weather conditions of the day are going to keep people where they need to be and that it’s going to be safe.”