A Day At Myrtle Beach Speedway In 2002 Changed Denny Hamlin’s Career Foreverby Hunter Thomas August 22, 2019 0 comments
Denny Hamlin’s career was nearly over before it fully took off, but a day at Myrtle Beach Speedway in 2002 changed everything.
In 2002, Hamlin’s racing career was essentially over. He and his family didn’t have the funding to continue racing Late Models, and Hamlin’s future was going to be working at his father’s trailer shop. That was until a conversation at a sign-in gate at a local track changed his life forever.
“When I was in my very final race in Late Models, my racing career was over in 2002 because of finances, I was driving for my family’s Late Model team, and there was a car owner named Jim Dean that was standing five or six people in line behind me in the sign‑in line,” Hamlin said in the Media Center at Bristol Motor Speedway. “Someone asked me if I was going to be in the final race at Myrtle Beach. My parents said no, this is it. We’re about to lose everything, so this is it. I’m just going to work at my dad’s trailer shop. That’s my future. That’s what I’m going to do for the rest of my life. I was content with it. I really was.
“But he (Jim Dean) came up to me and says, Hey, I overheard you say you’re not going to be able to go to the final event. I said, Yeah, we just don’t have the money. He said, If you don’t know, I own these two cars. If you don’t go into the final race and we win, I don’t feel like we beat the best. Call me on Tuesday, let me know how much money you need to go to the race.”
Hamlin made the phone call to Dean that following Tuesday. Luckily for Hamlin, a driver on the team had a falling out, and there was an empty seat for the upcoming Myrtle Beach 400, a prestigious NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model race that attracts some of the most talented drivers from around the country.
Hamlin started on the pole, and throughout the 250-lap race, he led nearly every lap, but he finished runner-up to South Carolina’s Robert Powell.
“I qualified on the pole, led 225 of the 250 laps, I got passed, finished second,” Hamlin said. “Anyway, he (Jim Dean) said, Tell your family to go ahead and sell everything, you’re going to drive for me next year.”
Following the impressive showing at Myrtle Beach Speedway, Hamlin’s Late Model career got back on track, and three years later, he was racing for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
With 35 career series wins, the Virginia native now enters the 70th running of the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway coming off a win at Bristol Motor Speedway. At Darlington Raceway, the driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota has an average finish of 6.2. He has won twice and finished inside the top-10 in all but two of his 13 starts at the track, Too Tough To Tame.
Hamlin is clearly a favorite heading into this year’s Bojangles’ Southern 500, because not only has he won the latest race, but he has finished inside the top-five in the past six consecutive races. Come Labor Day weekend, Hamlin will look to continue the success as he will try to win his fifth race of the season.
Hamlin said, “Doesn’t matter if it’s a road course or short track or superspeedway, anywhere. We can win every single week. Really for the last two months it’s just been incredible that the adjustments we’ve made as the season has gone on, just keep getting better.”
The Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway will broadcast live on the NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) and the Motor Racing Network (MRN) at 6 p.m. ET on Sunday, September 1.
Photo Credit: Hunter Thomas/TheFourthTurn.com