INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — There’s a shop on Gasoline Alley not far from the Speedway that’s been busy. Not only does the company make fire retardant, custom racing suits, but the business practically serves as an Indy 500 museum.
Famous names and recognizable faces litter the entry way of Hinchman Racing. You can find pictures of Mario Andretti winning the 1969 Indianapolis 500 in a Hinchman suit and Dario Franchitti trying on a replica suit. There is nearly a century of racing history at Hoosiers’ fingertips inside a rather quiet and humble local suit factory.
“I have the book where he sketched out the Goodyear design with the three stripes on the left panel,” said Hinchman Racing owner Nancy Chumbley.
JB Hinchman founded the company in 1925 after the overall factory where he worked shut down. He went garage to garage selling suits he made. Hinchman started off strong. Peter DePaulo wore a Hinchman suit in his 1925 Indy 500 victory.
“And it just got to be, that’s how this company originated. Just him going garage to garage making uniforms for guys so their clothes wouldn’t get dirty when they’d finish the race,” said Chumbley.
Soon after, suits became more than just a clothing protector. Safety concerns entered the equation when it came to burn prevention. But, at that time, the science behind flame retardant material wasn’t there yet.
“And the trouble is they could permanently fire retard something, impregnate it with something that would not burn but it was so uncomfortable to wear that,” said Joe Whisler, Hinchman Racing.
Fast forward to 1965, Hinchman Racing became the first outside of NASA and U.S. Military to make suits out of Nomex, a permanently fire retardant material.
“Our main concern is keeping people safe,” said Chumbley.
Chumbley took over the company 17 years ago after working as Hinchman’s secretary for 20 years. Despite her time in the office, she knew little about racing and the company was in a slump.
“I started going to races, trade shows. Working 60 – 80 hours a week and learning how to embroider and how the suits go together,” said Chumbley.
Now, Hinchman’s is back in the race. The company has even been dressing Pippa Mann for the last four years. It provides a custom-tailored fit for a female racer.
“Making a few people happy and having your name out there again, it’s really nice,” said Chumbley.
Mr. Hinchman kept everything from driver’s cards with measurements to sketches of suits, and newspaper clippings. Whether you’re in the market for a custom-tailored, fire retardant suit or would just like a trip down Indy 500 memory lane, head to 100 gasoline alley and talk to Nancy.
“And you sit down and before you leave they’re not just a customer they’re family, they’re a friend,” said Chumbley.
For more on Hinchman Racing you can check out their website.