NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

The Sports Report: James Hinkle delivers third win of the season in Norwalk

The 2024 season hasn’t yet reached the halfway point, and James Hinkle already has three national event wins in Right Trailers Top Sportsman, and he's in a prime position to contend for a championship.
05 Jul 2024
Kevin McKenna, NHRA National Dragster Senior Editor
The Sports Report
James Hinkle

For most racers, a single NHRA national event win is enough to constitute a successful season, so that means that three wins in less than a half season would be considered extraordinary. That’s exactly the position that James Hinkle finds himself in after winning the Right Trailers Top Sportsman title at last weekend’s Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk.

The Norwalk win marked the latest in a string of titles for the Danville, Ky.-based Hinkle, who has been on a tear this year with additional wins at the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals and the NHRA 4-Wide Nationals in Charlotte. Not surprisingly, Hinkle is the current leader in the battle for the championship in Right Trailers Top Sportsman. Ironically, Hinkle had never even appeared in a national event final before his win in Gainesville. He’s now a perfect 3-0.

“People might not believe this, but I set a goal to win three nationals in a row,” said Hinkle. “I won Gainesville and Charlotte and then went to Virginia and broke a transmission, so we didn’t’ get it done. Before Norwalk, I told my wife I was coming home with the ice cream scoop. Three out of four isn’t bad.”

“This is just my second year in Top Sportsman and Top Dragster,” Hinkle said. “I’ve run Super Comp, Super Gas, and Super Street but never seriously chased points. Originally, we built this Grand Am for high-dollar bracket racing, but I decided it wasn’t for me.”

Hinkle is nothing if not confident, and he predicted a divisional championship in his first season. He nearly delivered with a second-place finish in the Southeast Division.

“I really thought I was going to clean house in Division 2,” Hinkle said. “I did believe I was going to win, and that’s not being cocky, just confident. I led the points for most of the season, and then Doug Crumlich went out to Las Vegas, won the national and the divisional, and he passed me. This year, I said, ‘That’s not gonna happen again, buddy.’ ”

The secret to Hinkle’s success really isn’t a secret at all. He’s been lights out on the starting line this season, at least during his three national event wins. In 15 rounds, he’s had just one light worse than .027, and that was a very competitive .033. In Charlotte, Hinkle threw a nearly perfect package at Johnny Brooks in the second round of eliminations, and he did that same thing to Zach Sackman in the Norwalk final with a .008-second total to seal the win.

“Some people get nervous when they get to a final, but you can’t say that about me. In those three national events, my average light is a.008. I just try to stage the same and treat it like another time trial. I don’t take anything for granted and try not to get too excited until after the win light comes on.”

While Hinkle’s on-track results have been outstanding, he’s had to overcome his share of adversity both on and off the track. In fact, there have been times when simply getting to the track has been his biggest issue.

“We’ve had a lot of problems this year,” Hinkle said. “The car is good, but my truck hung up in high gear when we went to Orlando [Fla.], and I struggled to get home. Then we were getting ready for the GALOT [Motorsports Park] race, and we had more transmission troubles. Then I ripped the air conditioning unit off of the trailer when I hit a Tree. I’ve also had to put an axle in my trailer, and that doesn’t event count the three engines I’ve hurt in Top Dragster.”

Through it all, Hinkle and his family, including parents Lawrence and Sharon, wife Danielle, and kids, Keagan, Kelsea, and Kingston, have persevered. With his three wins, Hinkle figures to be one of the favorites to capture the championship in Right Trailers Top Sportsman, but there is still much work to be done at divisional races. Hinkle has so far attended five events and has three quarterfinals and two early losses to show for it. Currently, Hinkle has 471 points with three divisional events left to claim. He’s got a 31-point lead over second-place David Cook.

“I’ve got to do better at my last division races,” he says. “It would help if I stopped running into guys who are .000 on the Tree and run dead on. Honestly, my next goal would be to win the U.S. Nationals. Even if we don’t win the championship, an Indy win would be best. I’m not sure If I’m quick enough to qualify, but it’s something we’ll work on."

No matter how the rest of the season goes, Hinkle has already accomplished more than most races will this season with three Wallys. In addition to his family, he shares the credit for his success with Estes Machine, HTL Technologies Tracy Dryer, Richardson Meat Processing, Green Light Auto, Harley Family Tire, and Danville Tire.