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April 24, 2024

Denny Hamlin takes Mission 600 international with 19th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, Korea


Denny Hamlin looks on
James Gilbert
Getty Images

CONCORD, N.C./DAEGU, SOUTH KOREA (April 24, 2024) – As a prelude to the 65th running of the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day Weekend, Charlotte Motor Speedway took its 2024 Mission 600 campaign international on Tuesday with a virtual visit between Coca-Cola Racing Family driver Denny Hamlin and the 19th Expeditionary Sustainment Command (ESC), Eighth Army, United States Forces Command, Korea.

Now in its seventh year, Mission 600 pairs NASCAR drivers with military bases for in-person and virtual visits in an effort to educate the NASCAR community about the day-to-day lives of the men and women who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces and to build meaningful connections between the worlds of motorsports and the military.

While separated by more than 7,200 miles – or roughly the distance of 12 Coca-Cola 600 races – Hamlin and the unit found a lot of common ground in discussing sustainment, logistics, teamwork and leadership.

RELATED: Buy Coca-Cola 600 tickets

Hamlin met a variety of specialists from the 19th ESC who oversee everything from maintaining and fueling fleet vehicles to training K9s. During the discussion, Maj. Javon Starnes showed an overview video and shared insights into the vital role of the United States Forces Korea (USFK) and the ongoing joint training efforts with the Republic of Korea (ROK) forces. Starnes explained how collaborative training underscores the commitment to readiness and the shared responsibility of maintaining peace and security in the Indo-Pacific, reaffirming the U.S. forces’ ironclad commitment to the ROK-U.S. alliance. Hamlin and the soldiers then engaged in discussions on teamwork, emphasizing the parallels between military operations and the high-stakes world of NASCAR racing.

The 53-time Cup Series winner and 2022 Coca-Cola 600 champion shared about the importance of work-life balance, how logistics breed success in NASCAR and leadership lessons learned from NBA legend and 23XI co-owner Michael Jordan.

On what drives him:

“I love to compete. Since I was a kid, even before I could compete in NASCAR, I wanted to compete. I was always racing a friend on a bike. I was always trying to beat my grandma in putt-putt. I was always just a huge competitor. Even though I’m 20 years into my career at NASCAR, every seven days I have a chance to win, and knowing that feels really good… Just feeling like I’m at the peak of my career this late in my career, it keeps me smiling because I know that I’m one of the guys they’re going to have to beat.”

On the role logistics and sustainment play in NASCAR’s success:

“I didn’t understand it until I became a team owner. It’s different because if I win in the No. 11 car at Charlotte Motor Speedway at the Coca-Cola 600, I did a great job doing my job, which is just driving the car. I did a great job on that day. When you have weekends like this past weekend where the team that I own wins, it’s like watching your kid do something. You’re always more proud of them than you are of yourself and your own accomplishments. I feel like I had a hand in everything – the sponsorship, the marketing, the competition, the business side. I was part of growing the entire team. What I realized pretty quickly is that making this show happen every week is just crazy hard on the race team itself. We try to work at least two and a half weeks in advance because it’s a process that we have to stay ahead of constantly… I didn’t realize how much logistics is around making this show happen until I owned a team.”

On preparing for unexpected challenges:

“Whether you’re doing what you guys do or in racing, the game never goes as scripted. It never does. So, how do we prepare for that? How do we prepare for any of the challenges that may arise on the weekend? You can make, usually, the right decision, if you practice how you race. We’re on the racetrack with 36 other drivers and they never drive as I hope they would. There’s cautions when you don’t expect them. Sometimes there’s crashes that we have to avoid. Sometimes there’s damage to our car that we have to fix to get the car back in racing-winning shape… Life throws you curveballs and racing does as well. We’re always trying to deal in crisis management and how we can do better.”

On finding work-life balance :

“You’ve got to have a really good tackle box… I’m able to compartmentalize some things at certain times. Ultimately, the family always comes first, no matter what, over anything else. That’s going to live on way past my driving days. Your kids are your legacy.”

On beating Michael Jordan in head-to-head competition:

“In two things, actually. One is golf. We’re very close in handicap, so we just kind of play straight up. So I have beaten him in golf one or two times. And then, he thought he would try his hand at running in the racing simulators. You guys have seen simulators in the military. You’ve got simulators for everything… It took him about 10 laps before he said, ‘I’m done. My eyes are shaking. They’re crossing. I’ve got a new-found respect for what you guys do.’ What people see on Sundays is our cars going around in circles. What they have no idea of is what goes into that, what makes this driver just a little better than that driver, or what makes this car just slightly faster than that car. It takes hundreds of people – and sometimes thousands of people – to build these cars and get every little bit of speed out of them. But it was really fun to see the greatest athlete of all time struggling to make lap time around the race track.”

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