Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Connecting with the fans: Hamlin's loved ones give surgery updates through Twitter


If you weren't sure about the effect social media has had on the spread of NASCAR news, then you weren't on Twitter during Denny Hamlin's knee surgery.

Instead of waiting to hear the outcome from a reporter or a statement from Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR fans on Twitter received updates from Hamlin's mother, Mary Lou Hamlin, and girlfriend, Jordan Fish, during and after his surgery Wednesday morning.

At around 7 a.m. EST, Mary Lou Hamlin tweeted:

11mommalou: "Denny's getting ready for surgery. Will start shortly. Surgery will take approx 1 hour"

Dr. Patrick Connor with OrthoCarolina near Charlotte, N.C., performed the procedure to repair a torn ACL in Hamlin's left knee. The driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota sustained the injury during a game of pickup basketball in January.

Hamlin had been hoping to postpone the surgery until after the season, but elected to have the surgery this week instead of risking further damage. Hamlin said his knee ached following the March 21 Bristol race.

As they sat in the waiting room, Hamlin's mother and girlfriend shared the experience with NASCAR fans by tweeting photos of each other, Hamlin's father Dennis and best friend/manager Austin Peyton.

At around 9 a.m. ET, Marylou Hamlin tweeted that Hamlin's team owner, Joe Gibbs, had stopped by the hospital to wait with the group. Shortly after, she tweeted the first update on Hamlin's condition:

11mommalou: Doc just came out and said everything went fine. Meniscus (?)Didn't hav to take out so that was good. Will b in recov an hour or so.

Many likely gave a sigh of relief upon hearing the news. Hamlin's mother was referring to a meniscus, the tissue in the cartilage of the knee joint that provides structural integrity to the knee. Hamlin's was left intact.

As Hamlin's loved ones continued to wait, his girlfriend Fish let fans in on two more visitors: J.D. Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing, and Dave Alpern, vice president of marketing, had brought a life-size No. 11 bear to the hospital. Fish posted some photos of the bear, which seemed to take on a life of its own in the waiting room.

jordan_fish: Nurse came out, she asked what the bear's name was "he said we don't know, he's sleepy right now.. Well ask him when he wakes up" hahaha

It was an hour or so later when Mary Lou Hamlin tweeted that it "will probably b another 30-45 min b4 we can go back to see him." She let another Twitter user know that Joe and J.D. Gibbs and Alpern had left the hospital. Still waiting with Mary Lou were her husband, Fish and Peyton.

The Sprint Cup Series is off this week because of the Easter holiday, giving Hamlin more time to recover before the Phoenix race on April 10. Hamlin is planning to run the race, but Casey Mears will be on standby for Phoenix as well as the next several races.

At About 11 a.m. ET, Hamlin's mother tweeted:

11mommalou: Just talked to doc again everything fine.Getting denny ready to leave to go home

And from his girlfriend:

jordan_fish: Just saw him.. Everything went well.. Denny is doin fine, just a lil sore and groggy, thanks for keeping him in your thoughts and prayers!

All this at least an hour before Joe Gibbs Racing had posted on their Web site that Hamlin's surgery had been a success.

Mary Lou Hamlin and Jordan Fish used Twitter to do something extraordinary on Wednesday: reach out to fans of Denny Hamlin to let them know their driver was OK. There was no middleman, which would usually be a reporter or a PR representative. When Hamlin's loved ones found out the news, so did the fans - updates from the sources themselves in real time. By sharing their experience on Twitter, they invited fans into the waiting room with them.

It's been said that NASCAR drivers and their fans have a special relationship, different from that in other sports. After today, I'm sure Denny Hamlin fans would agree.

Photo: Denny Hamlin in the garage at Martinsville this weekend. (Geoff Burke / Getty Images for NASCAR)

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