Denny Hamlin, who obviously loves to race, also loves to golf. Those passions converged Thursday as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series star met two military veterans at Walt Disney World Resort’s Palm Course near Orlando for a couple of holes and a red, white and blue meet-and-greet leading into the July 1 Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway.
Hamlin, the 2016 DAYTONA 500 champion, has a couple of pending pieces of history he could make this year. He is trying to become the 20th driver to win “The Great American Race” and the Coke Zero 400. He could also become the 10th driver to post a victory in every Monster Energy Series event at DIS – the DAYTONA 500, Coke Zero 400, Advance Auto Parts Clash and Can-Am Duel.
“If there’s one track on the schedule that is very special to me, it’s Daytona,” Hamlin said. “I got my pinnacle win there in 2016 in the DAYTONA 500. I love coming back to Daytona no matter when it is. The July race is always special. The race is shorter, very intense and you are starting to battle for playoff seeding and spots.”
On Thursday, Army veteran Joe Eason of Orlando and Marine Corps veteran Sean Rego of Sebring, a Daytona International Speedway ticket holder, teed it up with Hamlin on two holes at Disney’s Palm Golf Course. Daytona International Speedway President Chip Wile was on hand to present the trio with customized “SHARE an ICE COLD Coke” patriotic bottles on behalf of the race sponsor. Wile also presented Eason and Rego two tickets apiece for the Coke Zero 400 while Hamlin presented them with a FedEx gift bag filled with autographed items.
“This is just a small preview for what Daytona does to honor military veterans,” Hamlin said. “I like playing golf and it worked out perfect to have a few of these guys down and play a few holes with them.”
Both veterans are relatively new to following NASCAR. Since presented with this opportunity, however, they have quickly become Hamlin fans.
“It was awesome,” Rego said. “I had no idea [Denny] was such a great golfer.”
“I had a really great time,” Eason added. “I’m not much of a golfer. I usually go to the driving range. Denny was very cool and he gave me some great pointers.”
Afterward, Hamlin and the veterans spoke with media members at the Shades of Green Resort, an official Armed Forces Recreation Center (AFRC) located within Walt Disney World Resort. AFRC facilities exist to provide rest, relaxation, recreation and sustainment for military personnel, their families and other members of the Total Defense Force. AFRC facilities have been serving the nation’s servicemembers and their families since 1946; the Shades of Green Resort opened in 1994 as the only AFRC in the continental United States.
One question that Hamlin is asked frequently is how his DAYTONA 500 win has impacted his career.
“Anytime you go to a golf event or something like that, they always announce you as a DAYTONA 500 champion,” Hamlin said. “That’s a title that every driver wants. It’s probably the second biggest event that we have in racing and the other is winning the actual championship at the end of the year. If you don’t finish the first goal in the very first race of the season, you have to work the entire season to get the next. It’s a tough event to win.
“The history of the DAYTONA 500 and the history of the race track is amazing. What they have done there the last few years with the renovations, it’s one of the biggest sports stadiums that you can go to and one of the nicest.”
Tickets for the 59th annual Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola, the Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 and other Daytona International Speedway events can be purchased online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP. Fans can stay connected with Daytona International Speedway on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Snapchat, and by downloading Daytona International Speedway’s mobile app, for the latest news throughout the season.throughout the season.