Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

NASCAR driver races to find cure

By Rebecca Angel Baer, CNN
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Tue June 11, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin is dedicated to raising money to find a cystic fibrosis cure
  • Hamlin was inspired by his cousin Kevin, who has cystic fibrosis
  • Hamlin established the Denny Hamlin Foundation to raise money and awareness for this disease
  • Foundation contributes to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation as well as several children's hospitals

(CNN) -- At the age of 5, NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin knew something wasn't quite right with his cousin.

"I remember going to his house and I never understood why he had to take so much medicine every single day. I just didn't understand it and really until I got a little bit older did I realize that he had a disease that there was no cure for," Hamlin says.

Hamlin's cousin Kevin Jones has cystic fibrosis, a chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system. According to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, those affected by the disease have a defective gene that causes the body to produce abnormally thick mucus, which can cause the lungs to clog and lead to life-threatening lung infections. It can also block the pancreas and make it difficult for the body to break down food.

Denny Hamlin with his cousin Kevin Jones, who suffers from cystic fibrosis.
Denny Hamlin with his cousin Kevin Jones, who suffers from cystic fibrosis.

The cousins grew up together and watching Jones battle the disease profoundly affected Hamlin.

"He's (Jones) had a couple lung transplants that have been successful, which is really good and he leads a very normal life. But for me it touched me, knowing that one of my family members had to go through that struggle every single day," says Hamlin.

His cousin is never far from his mind, even when he climbs into his race car every week to compete in NASCAR's elite series.

"We've always run a slogan on the back of our race car ever since I was 16 -- "so close yet so far," which is the slogan of the Cystic Fibrosis (Foundation), because they are so close to having a cure."

The effects of watching Jones' struggle ultimately led Hamlin to establish the Denny Hamlin Foundation in 2008. The foundation's primary goals are to raise awareness and funds for children dealing with cystic fibrosis. In the foundation's short existence, it has raised more than a million dollars for the cause. The Hamlin foundation contributes to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation as well as to several children's hospitals that treat kids with this disease.

One such hospital is the Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU in Hamlin's hometown. He has donated to the hospital's clinic and research lab.

"The research center at VCU has really done a great job of welcoming us in and we've contributed a lot of money to them because they do a lot of the research for cystic fibrosis. They've shown significant gains as far as trying to find a cure for it in just the last few years and I'd like to think we had something to do with that," Hamlin says.

The connection between Hamlin and the people at VCU is obvious. He relates to the young patients he visits with, but the staff as well. Banners bearing his picture hang throughout the clinic, as well as messages wishing him good luck in his attempt to win a NASCAR championship. In the restricted area of the research lab, appreciation and understanding of the gift he has given is deeply felt. There is a tiny cardboard cutout of Hamlin in his race suit on top of a refrigerator that contains cells. Staff members joke that they call him the Guardian of the Cells.

Hamlin's quiet determination is clear on his face. He is dedicated to fighting for his cousin and all who suffer the same turbulent life. According to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the current median age of survival is late 30s. This is not enough for Hamlin. He says he will continue to raise money through events like his Short Track Showdown and a celebrity golf tournament. He will march on in his fight until, as he says, C.F. no longer stands for cystic fibrosis, but "eventually we hope C.F. means cure found."

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT