Mind of a Motorhead: James Hinchcliffe on thrill-seeking and taking calculated risks


(Editor’s note: Mind of a Motorhead is a series in which motorsports athletes from various disciplines (such as IndyCar’s James Hinchcliffe) will be analyzed according to surveys of their personalities. Series host Dr. Ken Carter, the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Psychology at Oxford College of Emory University, writes below on what he learned about Stewart in the latest episode.)

In 2011, James Hinchcliffe was the IndyCar rookie of the year. In 2016, he was the pole-sitter for the Indianapolis 500 just one year after a horrific crash almost cost him his life at the same track.

In this episode of Mind of a Motorhead (watch the video above), Hinchcliffe spoke with me about his personality and those of other race car drivers.

You might expect all race car drivers to score off the chart on a thrill-seeking questionnaire. But Hinchcliffe’s scores on the Sensation Seeking Survey weren’t particularly high. His highest score wasn’t even on the part of the scale that measures how much people like frightening activities.

Hinchcliffe admits he doesn’t like frightening activities.

“I wouldn’t bungee jump,” he said. “I did skydive once, because I wanted to experience it. Now that I have, I would never jump out of a perfectly good airplane again.”

Fear and thrill aren’t what he’s after.

“The thing about racing is you never want to be out of control,” he said. “You never want to be frightened. It’s not supposed to be thrilling. It’s a calculated risk. I’m in a car that’s built to keep me safe with six safety belts and a helmet … and a safety team.”

Hinchcliffe’s highest score? It was for the part of the scale that measures how much people crave adventures, called experience seeking. Experience-seekers seek out encounters that are unique rather than dangerous, e.g., trying new foods, meeting new people or going to new places.

These experiences can affect sensation-seekers emotionally, intellectually or interpersonally. They’re not simply the visceral physical thrill (and danger) of going on the world’s highest roller coaster or running with tigers.

But Hinchcliffe wasn’t always an experience-seeker. That desire and quest changed after his 2015 crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway that required multiple surgeries.

“I used to be one of these people that was always like…I’ll do it next time… I’ll try it [later]…And then I realized after that there might not be a next time…Now I always say ‘yes’ to stuff and always give it a try because you never know if you are going to get that opportunity again.”

About those in his sport he observed, “There’s a huge correlation between intelligence and success at this level. This is very much a thinking sport. It involves split-second decision making.”

Curious about your score on Sensation Seeking? You can take a test at this link or read more about sensation seeking in my book, “Buzz! Inside the Minds of Thrill Seekers, Daredevils and Adrenaline Junkies.

You can watch the video above or by clicking here or you also can watch by subscribing to the Motorsports on NBC YouTube channel.

Seattle Supercross by the numbers: Three riders separated by 17 points


Three riders remain locked in a tight battle with 17 points separating the leader Cooper Webb from third-place Chase Sexton and these are only a few Supercross numbers to consider entering Seattle.

Seattle Supercross numbers
Chase Sexton made a statement in Detroit with his second win of 2023. – Feld Motor Sports

For the fifth time in 10 rounds. Sexton, Webb, and Eli Tomac shared the podium in Detroit. Between them, the trio has taken 23 podiums, leaving only seven for the remainder of the field. Jason Anderson, Ken Roczen and Justin Barcia have two each with Aaron Plessinger scoring the other.

Webb and Tomac won the last four championships with two apiece in alternating years, but they were not one another’s primary rival for most of those seasons. On the average, however, the past four years show an incredible similarity with average points earned of 21.0 for Webb and 21.3 for Tomac. With five wins so far this season, Tomac (23 wins) leads Webb (19) in victories but Webb (43) edges Tomac (41) in podium finishes during this span.

Tomac has won two of the last three Seattle races and those two wins in this stadium are topped only by James Stewart. Fittingly, if Tomac gets a third win this week, he will tie Stewart for second on the all-time wins’ list. Tomac tied Ricky Carmichael for third with 48 wins at Oakland and took sole possession of that spot with his Daytona win.

Sexton still has a lot to say and after winning last week in Detroit, he is speaking up. The Supercross numbers are against him entering Seattle, however, because a points’ deficit this large after Round 10 has been erased only once. In 1983 David Bailey was 47 points behind Bob Hannah, and like Sexton he was also in third place. Bailey took the points’ lead with one race remaining.

The seven points Sexton was penalized last week for jumping in a red cross flag section in Detroit could prove extremely costly.

In fact, it has been a series of mistakes that has cost Sexton the most. In the last two weeks, he lost 10 points with a 10th-place finish to go with his penalty. Erase those, and all three riders hold their fate in their hands.

Plessinger’s heartbreak in Detroit is still fresh, but the upside of his run is that was his best of the season and could turn his fortunes around. Prior to that race, he led only seven laps in three mains. He was up front for 20 laps in Detroit with five of those being the fastest on the track.

Last week’s win by Hunter Lawrence tied him with his brother Jett Lawrence for 17th on the all-time wins’ list. With the focus shifting to 250 West for the next two rounds, Jett has a great opportunity to pull back ahead. The real test will be at the first East / West Showdown in East Rutherford, New Jersey on April 22.

Last Five Seattle Winners

2022: Eli Tomac
2019: Marvin Musquin
2018: Eli Tomac
2017: Marvin Musquin
2014: Ryan Villopoto

2022: Hunter Lawrence
2019: Dylan Ferrandis
2018: Aaron Plessinger
2017: Aaron Plessinger
2014: Cole Seely

By the Numbers

Anaheim 2
San Diego

More SuperMotocross coverage

How to Watch Seattle Supercross
Dylan Ferrandis may return before SX finale
SMX develops “Leader Lights”
Power Rankings after Detroit
Hunter Lawrence defends Haiden Deegan
Results and points after Detroit
Chase Sexton wins in Detroit, penalized seven points