News & Media

Contest winner soaks in the NASCAR experience

March 29, 2011, Bill Kimm,

FONTANA, Calif. -- Before being honored at Richmond, Hansen attends first race at Fontana

Forgive Staff Sgt. Matthew Hansen if he appears a little overwhelmed. It's because he is.

The quiet, sometimes shy 26-year-old Marine isn't used to being in the spotlight, yet that's exactly where he finds himself as the winner of Crown Royal's Your Name Here contest. It honors a military hero by naming the April Richmond race after that person and making him or her the grand marshal.

"I tell you, sitting there [on the pit box] watching the race and being right on top of the crew when they're working on the car. It's really awesome."


This year, Hansen shares the honor with his twin brother, Daniel, who was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan on Feb. 14, 2009.

Hansen had never been to a NASCAR race, so to get him ready for the limelight at Richmond, Crown Royal brought him to Auto Club Speedway to get him acclimated with the NASCAR scene ... and acclimated he was.

"It's pretty crazy," Hansen said. "We're out here [in the garage] and they're revving all the engines and I was going more deaf than I already am. It's pretty neat, to stand over there and watch the crew work on the car.

"[Crown Royal] is telling me there's going to be a lot going on [in Richmond] and that's kind of why we're here -- to kind of break me in on this because this is my first race. I'm just standing in shock and awe as I go through all this."

Hearing Hansen describe NASCAR as "shock and awe" is surprising considering how much the nine-year Marine has seen and done at such a young age.

The Walnut Creek, Calif., native enlisted in the Marine Corps in Sept. 2002, just after turning 18. From 2003 to 2007, Hansen spent a majority of his time in Kuwait and Iraq, serving our country and working his way through the ranks to Sergeant.

Hansen's brother, Daniel, joined the Marines around the same time and also spent time in Iraq, as well as Afghanistan, Japan and Australia. Daniel once served on a security detail that guarded President George W. Bush and provided security for two generals while in Iraq.

Daniel's life was cut tragically short when he was killed in action in the Farah province of Afghanistan.

Matthew described his brother as "a real hero" and is proud to share the Richmond race name with him.

"I am so grateful for this opportunity to honor my brother Daniel and share his incredible story with millions of NASCAR fans," Hansen said. "I came into this world with Daniel, joined the Marines with him, and never expected to be standing here without him."

Hansen's godmother submitted the winning entry but didn't share this information with him. So when the call came, Hansen at first had his doubts.

"I didn't believe it. I thought it was a prank," Hansen said. "I got off the phone and, I was at work, so I went to the Marine Corps Public Affairs Office and asked them to validate it, make sure it was a legitimate thing before I called back and said, 'OK. All right, now what are you trying to tell me?' It was way out of the blue and it's increasingly becoming more and more than I ever thought it would be so it's great. It's quite the trip."

Hansen's day at Fontana started very early as he met Matt Kenseth and the crew before Sunday's race. Hansen was a guest of Kenseth's and crew chief Jimmy Fennig at the drivers meeting, made a couple appearances for Crown Royal, went with Kenseth to driver introductions and watched the Auto Club 400 from the No. 17 pit box.

It was quite the first-race experience for Hansen.

"It was pretty awesome," Hansen said. "I tell you, sitting there [on the pit box] watching the race and being right on top of the crew when they're working on the car. It's really awesome.

"I got to [check out] those tires. They were sitting right there and looking at how worn they are after five minutes, all I could think about was my car."

Even with a Cup race under his belt, Hansen isn't sure he's ready for all the pomp and circumstance at Richmond, when he will be the center of attention at the Matthew and Daniel Hansen 400.

"I don't know if I can ever say I'm ready, but seeing this really has got me into it," Hansen said. "Right now I understand why everyone gets into this, with the noise, the excitement, obviously the fast cars.

"I haven't seen any of the [Richmond] merchandise, but I've been seeing some of the paperwork. I'm flabbergasted about it right now. I'm sure its going to be worse when I [get there]."

All the preparation for the April 30 race can't prepare Hansen for the one person that will be missing. It's been two years since the passing of his twin brother, and while Hansen knows Daniel wouldn't have enjoyed the spotlight of the weekend, Matthew knows his brother would have loved the experience.

"I don't think he'd like the spotlight being shown on him," Hansen said. "We don't like to get all this attention, just rather do what we do. But, I'm sure he'd be honored. He's like me, we were just never into NASCAR but I think he would have got a kick out of this, he would have thought it was pretty neat."