James Hinchcliffe is a frontrunner to win this season of Dancing With the Stars, but the IndyCar racer also knows a lot about loss. Hinchcliffe almost lost his life in a horrific car crash last year, and for DWTS’ Most Memorable Year theme week, he looks back on the freak accident that nearly killed him just 16 months ago. In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, James said he appreciates his life now more than ever.
“I was appreciative of the position I was in before, but it really drives the point home when you almost lose it,” James told ET.
James Hinchcliffe lost control of his race car while driving more than 220 mph at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May 2015. James’ No. 5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda slammed into a wall after the car’s suspension came loose and a steel rod impaled his thigh and struck his femoral artery. Lifesaving emergency surgery was performed and James made a miraculous return to the racing circuit four months later.
While Hinchcliffe suffered a serious concussion and has no memory of the actual accident, he will pay tribute to that life-changing year this week on Dancing With the Stars.
“I was so lucky,” James told ET. “For those 100 things that went wrong, 1,000 things had to go just right for me, not only to survive that, but to be able to race again, and be able to have absolutely no lasting side effects.”
James Hinchcliffe and his partner Sharna Burgess will take on a tango to the song “The Right Time” for this week’s theme, and the time could be right for James to make it to the DWTS finals in a few weeks. In an interview with People, Burgess said Hinchcliffe is a true competitor whose brush with death changed him forever.
“Being a competitor helped him recover and get back in the driver’s seat just four months after flatlining on the table,” the DWTS pro told People.
“That experience changed him and I think hearing that story will make people understand how and why he lives for every moment and finds the light in every situation. He, more than anyone, knows that life is too short.”
James Hinchcliffe is one of the top contestants this season on DWTS, despite the fact that he has zero prior dance experience.
“It’s certainly outside of my comfort zone,” Hinchcliffe told IndyStar ahead of the DWTS premiere. “If there’s something below amateur [my ability] would be that.”
Still, James went on to say that his competitive nature—and newfound appreciation for life—would definitely help him.
“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 in August. “But I’ve got the competitive spirit, and IndyCar drivers have a pretty good record on this show, so hopefully that counts for something.”
Indeed, James Hinchcliffe is the second IndyCar Series driver chosen for DWTS, and he seems to be following in the footsteps of his predecessor. IndyCar driver Helio Castroneves won his season of the show in 2007 when he was partnered with then-pro dancer Julianne Hough. Hinchcliffe said his terrifying accident caused him to have a new outlook on life and it gave him more confidence to step out of his comfort zone for the celebrity ballroom competition.
“I learned you’ve got to take opportunities as they come to you, and you’ve got to live your life,” James said.
You can see James Hinchcliffe and the rest of the DWTS celebs relive their most memorable years on Dancing with the Stars on Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.
Take a look at the video below to see James Hinchcliffe talking about his near-fatal car crash.
[Featured by Isaac Brekken/Getty Images for iHeartMedia]