Right before he left for Wednesday night’s Toyota 500 at Darlington Raceway, Denny Hamlin found a source of inspiration—his friend and frequent golf buddy Michael Jordan.
No, Hamlin didn’t get a pep talk from the man generally acknowledged as the greatest NBA player of all time. Instead, he watched the final episode of ESPN's “The Last Dance,” the documentary that chronicled Jordan’s achievements on and off the basketball court.
There was a conversation with Jordan, though. It happened the night before.
“It was just so good,” Hamlin said. “For me, probably the motivation I had was watching the final episode about an hour before I left for Darlington (Wednesday). It definitely gives you some motivation to go out there and perform at your best, and just seeing the work ethic that he had was amazing.
“I’ve gotten to know him on a personal level. Special to me, I had a conversation with him last night about how it’s awesome to win at a track where his dad used to take him to NASCAR races when he was a kid. And what ultimately grew his love for NASCAR was going to a race himself. That’s why we always encourage parents out there to bring your kids to the race track, because you’re going to create a fan there that’s going to be there for life and might be the next guy that’s going to go out here and win a championship.”
Jordan can hold his own in a conversation about racing. He and Hamlin have talked about the sport on a multitude of occasions.
“He’s a great friend of mine, he loves the sport, and I love talking racing with him sometimes,” Hamlin said. “It’s amazing to see, I have to check myself sometimes knowing that’s the guy who’s my friend, that guy.
“It’s amazing. I never thought growing up watching him and his greatness, and I was a little too young to appreciate it at the time, but knowing that’s somebody you can always lean on to be there when you need him and be a friend and show up to your championship races at Homestead whenever you have a shot--that’s a good man.”
Despite their friendship, Hamlin was not part of “The Last Dance” documentary.
“No, my relationship with him is a little different,” Hamlin said. “I don’t have any of the firsthand stories about being teammates or in the management. I just enjoyed the dialogue of the people that were there and hearing their side of the story and hearing how things went down.
“The video that they pulled has been around for years, but hearing people talk about it during that moment, this is what was really going on. That to me was the most intriguing part.”