His name is Chase Hicks, but the head grocery associate of a Food Lion northwest of Richmond, Va., likely will be known as “Hamlin Man” from now on at Richmond International Raceway.
Even Denny Hamlin noticed the race fan.
Shortly before the start of Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Richmond, Hamlin told his team on the radio that he saw a “seriously awesome guy” in Turn 1 with a No. 11 cape. Hamlin also noted the different salutes Hicks gave Hamlin and Joey Logano. Hicks gave Hamlin the No. 1 sign.
Hamlin also said he thought he went to high school with Hicks, but it turns out he didn’t. Hamlin is 34. Hicks is 26.
It wasn’t hard to spot Hicks standing against the fence before the race. Hicks wore a Hamlin helmet and a bright orange Hamlin T-shirt over a dark long-sleeve Hamlin shirt – Hicks purchased both shirts that day – along with a No. 11 flag he wore as a cape. Hicks also sported his Hamlin watch.
“I make sure when I go out there everybody knows who my driver is and I’m going to stick by him,’’ said Hicks, who is from Glen Allen, Va., and has been a fan of Hamlin since his rookie year.
It wasn’t until Hicks was in his seat that he realized that Hamlin saw him. Hicks’ girlfriend heard an announcer reference the driver’s comments, which had been posted on Twitter.
“I was like, I wonder if there is anybody else taking my idea,’’ Hicks said. “Then all of a sudden my Facebook started lighting up. Everybody on my Denny Hamlin group in Denny’s Den was like I’m pretty sure that Denny just said he saw you in Turn 1. I was like ‘Oh my God, now I’ve been noticed by Denny Hamlin.’ That just kind of made my day.’’
Hicks said his friends on Facebook figured it was him because they knew how he dressed. He posted pictures of a similar outfit at Richmond last year but left the cape and helmet behind when he went to this seat. This year, he decided he was “going all out’’ with his outfit.
Later, during the race he and his girlfriend walked around the track and were stopped by fans asking if he was the person Hamlin saw before the race.
Hicks says he’s met Hamlin a few times at signings. The first time Hicks met Hamlin was at a Bass Pro shop where Hicks used to work. Hicks had brought a diecast car to have Hamlin sign but said when a woman in a wheelchair dropped the car she intended Hamlin to sign and breaking it, he gave her his car.
“I can always get another one,’’ Hicks said to himself.
When Hamlin found out about Hicks’ kindness, he told Hicks to write to Hamlin’s mother and a replacement would be sent.
A short time later, Hicks received a large package with not only the car but an autographed hat. Hamlin’s mother sent a handwritten letter, which Hicks framed and has up on a wall.
“I still cherish that stuff,’’ Hicks said.
Another time Hicks met Hamlin at a FedEx hospitality event at the track. Hicks wore the cape that day.
“As I was walking out, I put the helmet on and the last thing he said, ‘Man, I like that, that is so cool.’ My girlfriend said, ‘I think you made Denny’s day.’ That’s all that matters.’’