Sunday, May 9, 2010

Women in NASCAR - Mary Lou Hamlin

Mother’s Day Edition

Getting to Know
Mary Lou Hamlin

I thought I’d take a different angle with this edition of Women in NASCAR (WIN). While we all celebrate our moms on this day, I thought I’d write about a NASCAR mom whom we all know and love. It wasn’t a difficult choice as far as whom I wanted for this piece, so I was so excited when I was able to connect with Mary Lou Hamlin. She accepted my invitation graciously and I have to say she is every bit the Mom I thought she was.

Mary Lou was the youngest of six siblings raised, for the most part, by her mother. Her five siblings were all born in Cincinnati, and Mary Lou was born in Tampa, Florida. She graduated from Robinson High School in Tampa which, by the way, was the same high school that Hulk Hogan attended.

She began working at the age of 14, selling hot dogs at the then famous fast-food chain, Der Wienershnitzel. Mary Lou said, "Just imagine, the Sunday special was 6 hot dogs for $1.” She also had a couple of other jobs at businesses that included a tire company as well as an insurance company.

While Mary Lou attended junior high school, she was introduced to her now husband, Dennis. It was Dennis’ brother who had introduced them. She was 15 and he was a 21-year-old divorced father of two girls. Although her mother wasn’t happy about her dating an older man who had been previously married, Mary Lou really liked him. It was in December 1973, her senior year in high school, when she and Dennis were married. At that time, she began working part-time as well as going to school.


In 1974 Mary Lou graduated from high school and began working full-time, as a file clerk, at AAA (American Automobile Association). On November 18, 1980, in Chesterfield, Virginia, James Dennis Alan Hamlin Jr. was born to parents Dennis and Mary Lou Hamlin. Mary Lou continued working in Chesterfield until 1982 when she transferred to the AAA in Virginia. It was there that she obtained her insurance license, spending 25 years with the company.

When asked what her hopes were for the future or her passions, Mary Lou said, “I never had any strong passions on what I wanted to do. I was just happy to have a good job to help support our children. I always kept my license though just in case I ever wanted to go back into the insurance industry. I retired from AAA in 2006 after a total of 33 years with them.”

Chesterfield, Virginia, is where Denny’s career began with racing go-karts. As 15, he won first place in the World-Karting Association (WKA) Manufacturer's Cup. At 16, Hamlin began racing mini-stocks. His first car race was at Langley Speedway, qualifying in the pole position and then winning the race.
Denny's 9th birthday.
After several years of stockcar racing, Hamlin finally caught the attention of Joe Gibbs Racing and was offered a contract. Competition began in 2004 for Hamlin in NASCAR. In 2006, Denny completed his first full season of racing. He drove full-time in both the Nextel Cup and the Busch Series. He was the first Rookie of the Year candidate who took home the victory in the Budweiser Shootout.

All of this didn’t come without a price. The Hamlins believed in their son and his potential to become a championship driver. As we all know too well, this sport comes with a heavy price tag. Getting to that place where you can rest a little easier is at the end of a long and twisty road with only left-hand turns. You must have more than just raw talent to make it; you've got to have support! Denny couldn’t have made it without the help of his mom and dad.

In a 2006 USA TODAY interview, Denny said, "My parents have gone through so much. Now, it's my job to get those debts paid off and let them lead the happy life they deserve." Denny’s father was quoted in the same 2006 interview saying, "There were a lot of sleepless nights in our household, It makes for a great story, but at the same time, there was a lot of heartache."

Both of Denny’s parents gave up a lot, in the early years, in an effort to make Denny’s dreams a reality. In an effort to help finance Denny’s career, the Hamlins have remortgaged their house twice while spending about $700,000 on Denny’s racing since he started with go-karts at age 7. Mr. Hamlin remembered, "From 3 years old, all I heard him say was, "' want to race cars.'" They never thought twice.

Mary Lou herself gave up a 1967 Camaro Rally Sports Convertible. Denny said, with confidence, “I’m gonna find that thing.” Denny’s father also let go of his prized 1932 Ford for the same reason.

What follows is my question and answer session with Mary Lou Hamlin. I hope you enjoy reading it, and getting to know a little more about @11mommalou (as her twitter friends know her)

LB-(Lindi Bess) Was it always obvious that Denny wanted to be a racecar driver or did he ever talk about other career choices?
ML(Mary Lou)-“He never wanted to be anything but a racecar driver. From the age of 3 you would ask him what he was going to be and that was it. Even through his elementary school, his teachers knew that was his passion. I guess because I never had a strong passion like that, I have been in ‘awe’ about someone who knew what they wanted to do with their life at such a young age."


LB-How does your family handle all the attention?
ML-“We enjoy being able to meet so many nice people. Still seems odd that someone wants an autograph from our son!! And from his Dad and I at times.”

LB-What is your involvement in things associated with Denny’s career?
ML-“I currently run Denny's Fan Club. That entails working in my office of our home, answering telephones, design processing, etc. Fan Club packages and fan mail."


LB-Are there unique pressures that come with your role as the mother of an NSCS driver?
ML-“ No, none that I’m aware of. I enjoy it. Only thing is being asked for interviews, etc. It makes me a little uncomfortable because of my shyness but it has helped me a little to come out of my shell.”


LB-What has been one of the scariest moments you experienced as a NSCS mom?
ML-“He never has been in a real bad crash but in the very last go-kart race he was in, before moving to stockcars, he flipped it and was thrown. That was pretty scary. In NASCAR there was one race when he crashed and the car caught on fire. Whenever I see fire, it scares me.”


LB-Any particular moment that stands out in your mind that you felt extra proud of Denny?
ML-“I think the 2006 Budweiser Shootout he won in his rookie year stands out.”


LB-Much has been said about the sacrifices your family has made to support Denny in his career. When he injured his ACL, was the family concerned that it could be a turning point in his career?
ML-“I wasn’t concerned at all. I didn’t even think it would affect his racing career. I knew the determination Denny had to get back into shape.”

Photo taken the day of Denny’s surgery, Dennis (dad) and Jordan
LB-If Denny couldn’t drive any longer, what do you think he would be doing?
ML-“Not sure what he would do now, but if he didn’t get his break in NASCAR he and his Dad would probably be running their Trailer & Hitch Shop in Chesterfield, Va.”


LB-How about family vacations?
ML-“We took normal vacations when Denny was little, Disney World, visiting family, etc. However, we never took vacations much when Denny was into racing go-karts or racecars because the extended weekends would be our vacations.”


LB-Is Denny a 1st generation driver or was there family before him that motivated his interest?
ML-“His Dad raced in a hobby class at Eastbay Raceway in Florida for one year right after Denny was born. It was just a hobby he and his brother did cause we really didn’t have the money to race.”


LB-Did you ever question Denny getting involved with racecar driving?
ML-“Never, since he started go-karts when he was 7, it just seemed naturally. His dad would always say that others would have a boat and go out on the weekends, we had go-karts and racecars.”


LB-Can you share a little story or something that the fans don’t know about Denny Hamlin? Embarrassing moment, pet peeve?
ML-“Something that fans may not know about Denny is that when he was in 5th grade he was in a talent show at Grange Hall Elementary School. He sang a Garth Brooks song “Shameless” in front of everyone, cowboy hat and all. I couldn’t believe he had the nerve to do that, but he did.”

LB-Do you have favorites as far as tracks or towns you visit during the season?
ML-I like going to all of them. My favorites are Richmond and Martinsville because I love the short tracks and we see lots of family and friends.”

LB-Do you ever have to pinch yourself? Or did you always believe Denny would make it?
ML-“Always hoped he would make it but knew that the chances were few and far between. However, we have been very fortunate that he was given the opportunity to be at the right place at the right time to get his break. Then he was able to show his skills that he had worked on his entire life.”

LB-What are Denny’s hopes for the future?
ML-“Not sure what his hopes are for the future. He wants to stay focused on the driving part of it right now.”

LB-Finish these statements………

A normal day in my life goes like this……
I get up around 7 or 8, go into the office and check e-mails, etc. Process Fan Club packages, run errands and make trip to FEDEX. Come home and cook dinner (or pickup!). Do all the normal home chores while trying to watch some TV. Hit the sack around 1 0r 2 a.m.”

A race day in goes like this……Try to get to Denny’s motorhome from the hotel before his first appearance/practice/drivers meeting. Hang around the MH lot until he is up and gone. Catch a ride to the merchandise trailer and spend a few hours there if I can. Try and get back before the driver intros. Go to intros. Head to pit stall for beginning of race. Usually head back to motorhome after first caution and watch it on TV. Have to leave with around 50 laps to go to take rental car back to the airport. I hate this part because I usually don’t get to see the end of a race. I have to listen to it on the radio or if I get there early enough watch it on the airport TV.”

LB-What are your thoughts on the social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook?
ML-“Still learning Facebook and just learned Twitter. I see Twitter as a good thing for people like me that are shy. I enjoy the tweet-ups too, they can bring people face to face. Downside is that some people take opinions sometimes as the truth.”

When I need time to relax and unwind, I like to………Have lunch at Panera, walk my dog Bristol or watch TV.”

Dennis, Denny, TMS Trophy, Jordan and Mary Lou
Congratulations to Denny Hamlin and his team for sweeping Darlington this weekend. He is the first driver in 17 years to sweep the infamous track. What a special Mother's Day gift for Mary Lou. What a gift for his fans!

Thanks to Mary Lou Hamlin for being so open with me on this interview. She’s really a tribute to moms everywhere in that she has really made a life for her family and been the support, along with her husband Dennis, that Denny needed to make his dreams come true.

Happy Mother’s Day to you, Mary Lou! And to all mothers everywhere. Today is your day and you need to enjoy it! Take the time to relish in your accomplishments because they are visible in the children you have brought into this world.

ALL PHOTOS IN THIS PIECE ARE THE SOLE PROPERTY OF MARY LOU HAMLIN. I WAS GIVEN PERMISSION BY HER TO USE THEM IN THIS ARTICLE ONLY. THEY MAY NOT BE USED IN ANY OTHER PUBLICATION WHATSOEVER.

PLEASE DO NOT COPY

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