Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Denny Hamlin delivers Christmas gift of a lifetime


Jason Smith / Getty Images for NASCAR
One of the great things about NASCAR is the generosity of its drivers. Many are involved in community service and have various causes they support. Some give back through their own foundations or join with other organizations to aid a variety of worthwhile endeavors close to their hearts.

The drivers’ good will also extends to the sport's fans. Some show their appreciation to the fans by giving away free race tickets or other prizes through Twitter and other social media websites. In some cases, fans are given an opportunity they may not otherwise have, such as seeing a race during tough economic times or a vacation they never dreamed of.

The top 3 Sprint Cup title contenders of 2010 are fine examples of the generosity present in NASCAR. Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, runner-up Denny Hamlin and regular season points leader Kevin Harvick personified the Christmas spirit by making a difference recently in their hometowns, adopted hometowns and in the lives of their fans. All three are winners on and off the track.

Over the next three days, we’ll look at how each gave back during the holiday season. Today we’ll start with Hamlin and a Christmas one family of NASCAR fans will never forget.

Denny Hamlin - or Santa Claus?

Instead of a helmet, perhaps Denny Hamlin should be wearing a Santa hat.

This Christmas, Hamlin gave one family the ultimate gift: an all-expenses paid vacation anywhere in the continental United States. The driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota will provide airfare, hotel and $2,000 in spending money to the destination of their choice.

The runner-up to this year’s championship, Hamlin has shown his appreciation for the sport’s fans by giving away free race tickets since 2009. Hamlin started “Denny’s Seats” on his website and in 2010 moved the program to Twitter, giving away tickets to fans who correctly answered a trivia question the night before every race.

But on Christmas, Hamlin outdid himself. In the weeks leading up to the holiday, Hamlin told his followers he would give away the vacation through his Twitter page on Christmas Day. When the day arrived, Hamlin asked fans to answer a Christmas-related trivia question. The 11th person to answer correctly would be determined the winner. Participants were asked to tag their answers with #11in11.

Hamlin's question was: If you received every gift in the song “12 days of Christmas,” how many presents would you have?

After Hamlin tweeted the trivia, Twitter lit up with a variety of responses. (It’s not as easy a question as it might seem!).

But Jennifer Meyering was sure of the answer. The NASCAR fan from Pennsylvania, who goes by the Twitter name @Dizneydreamer, was the 11th person to tweet the correct answer – 364 – winning the family vacation.

After Hamlin announced her as the winner, congratulations flooded Meyering from NASCAR fans throughout Twitter. But everyone wanted to know: where would she be going on the trip?

After discussing it with her husband, Meyerling announced on Twitter that they and their 6-year-old son would attend one of NASCAR’s premier events - the Brickyard.

“My husband and I talked about the various places we wanted to go and quickly decided that we wanted to go see another NASCAR race. We went to the June race at Pocono last year and had a great experience. We then started talking about which race we wanted to attend - and this was a hard decision,” Meyering said in an e-mail. 

“We were slightly constrained by time - we wanted to make sure we could take our son, but we didn’t want to take him out of school. We thought about the Coke 600, but talked about that that’s a race we would maybe drive to on our own some time. I then thought about the Brickyard 400 - to be able to see racing at the Brickyard would just be amazing. I immediately knew that was the race we wanted to go (to).”

Meyering’s son is a big fan of Hamlin. And now because of Santa - er, Hamlin, that is - Meyering and her family are looking forward to the trip of a lifetime.

If she could speak to Hamlin directly – which hopefully she’ll have a chance to at the Brickyard - what would she say?

“I would first thank him for his generosity. And then I would thank him for his interaction with his fans - that’s not something you see in many other sports, and it really makes NASCAR special. It shows that they truly value their fans,” Meyering said.

“It’s nice to see an athlete taking the time to listen and be with the fans - and I would really like him to know that us fans really appreciate it.”

Hamlin’s contest drew such a high response on Twitter that the #11in11 hashtag shot up to the No. 3 trending topic in the United States on Christmas Day. A search for the hashtag revealed some Twitter users (obviously not NASCAR fans) wondering what the tag stood for!

Off the track, Hamlin works with the Denny Hamlin Foundation to raise awareness for individuals affected with cystic fibrosis, as well as chronically ill children with other diseases. To learn more about the Denny Hamlin Foundation, visit the charity’s site at http://www.dennyhamlinfoundation.org/.

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