Denny Hamlin Plays Santa for Children with Autism at Dover

Hamlin speaks to the media about autism awareness, May 30, 2014
Credit: Beth Bence Reinke for Skirts and Scuffs     
by Beth Reinke

It’s Christmas in May for some kids in Delaware this weekend, thanks to Denny Hamlin and his sponsor, FedEx. The driver and his team have found a unique way to bless some young NASCAR fans in attendance at Dover International Speedway.

“We’re going to go up to the Toys R Us down the street and load up a truck full of toys,” Hamlin said. “Autism Speaks and Toys R Us have had a partnership for a very long time, and have come up with 10 toys or so that are specific for children with autism. We’re going to load up a bunch of those toys tomorrow afternoon and bring them over to the (autism) hospitality area here at Dover. “

While many families can hop in the car for outings like a baseball games, concerts or the zoo, these families can’t, because the environments provide too much sensory input for their autistic children. But they can attend a race at the Monster Mile, where there’s a special area dedicated to providing a calm atmosphere to make the kids more comfortable.

The whole family can watch the race from an air-conditioned hospitality area tucked into the backstretch grandstands. If their child needs a break, parents can usher him to a “quiet zone,” with dim lighting and less noise, to regain his bearings.

The autism-specific toys are geared to help kids with autism engage in playtime alongside other children, while helping them develop creativity and language skills.

Artie Kempner, Autism Speaks board member and Coordinating Producer for NASCAR on Fox, said approximately one in 68 children in the U.S. is on the autism spectrum, meaning the child displays some autistic symptoms or characteristics.

“There are a lot of kids on the spectrum who love to watch NASCAR,” Kempner said. “Whatever it is, whether it’s the cars being the way they look going around in a circle – there’s a symmetry to it, and a lot of folks on the spectrum, they just get into that symmetry.”

Hamlin said the number of children affected by autism is increasing. “What people don’t understand is that a lot of families are affected by autism, and a lot of the NASCAR family: the Sadlers, [Jamie] McMurray. So nine times out of 10, you’re gonna know someone who’s affected by it.”

Credit: Beth Bence Reinke for Skirts and Scuffs
In keeping with the autism awareness theme, Hamlin and ESPN analyst Brad Daugherty will host registered fans in a Track Walk around the one-mile concrete oval to benefit Autism Speaks and the NASCAR Foundation.

For the FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks race, the No. 11 car is sporting a sky blue paint scheme covered with puzzle pieces containing names of fans.

“They came up with doing a paint scheme with different puzzle pieces, and people were able to donate $11 to have their first name and last initial on the race car,” Hamlin said. “With that, they were able to raise a little over $40,000 that will go to autism as well. It’s a big month for autism.”
Denny Hamlin Plays Santa for Children with Autism at Dover Denny Hamlin Plays Santa for Children with Autism at Dover Reviewed by Beth Reinke on Friday, May 30, 2014 Rating: 5