How Denny Hamlin Sparked A Love Connection Between Fans

After winning tickets from Denny Hamlin, Kim Sonefeld and Tim Simmons met and became a couple. (Photo courtesy Kim Sonefeld)

Race fan Kim Sonefeld happened to be on her computer the day before the Daytona 500, browsing the web and checking Twitter.

A tweet from Denny Hamlin caught her eye. Hamlin said he would be giving away tickets to NASCAR's biggest race to whichever fans answered his trivia questions first.

Kim, who lives a few hours away from Daytona Beach, was intrigued. She followed along with Hamlin's trivia clues, guessing again and again as the driver unveiled more hints.

And then, suddenly, it happened. Hamlin tweeted: "winner... @kimsonefeld."

"I started freaking out," Kim recalls. "I thought, ‘I'm going to Daytona! How cool is this?'"

Kim, 25, noticed Hamlin was giving another ticket away, too. So she waited until she saw another tweet that said "winner... @kartracer3886" and tweeted to the person she assumed would be her Daytona 500 seatmate to introduce herself.

The person known as kartracer3886 turned out to be Tim Simmons, a 23-year-old who lived within an hour of Kim on Florida's west coast and shared her love of NASCAR.

The two struck up a technology-aided conversation and, the next day, met at their seats to watch the Daytona 500.

Tim says he's "pretty shy" and doesn't talk much, but while the pair braved the cold weather and red flags together, they found they shared much in common.

"The red flags, that definitely helped the conversation," Tim says. "The hole in the track had some upside."

In the weeks after the race, the two stayed in touch via Twitter, texts and Facebook, and soon began hanging out.

Before they knew it, Kim says, "Things snowballed into a relationship."

"Everyone's like, ‘You guys have the best story!'" Kim says with a laugh. "Of all the people who could have won that contest, for two people to be within an hour of each other and around the same age, that's pretty cool."

Not to mention they were both single. Because Tim is so reserved, he says he didn't exactly show up at Daytona looking for a new girlfriend.

"I never expected to meet someone at a track," he says softly. "If I see a girl it's not like I'm going to go up and talk to them or whatever. It's not something I'd expect."

Who would have ever thought Denny Hamlin could play matchmaker?

Upon being told his Daytona Twitter contest winners had won more than just tickets, Hamlin broke out into a grin that only grew wider as he figured out where the story was going.

"No way," he said. "No way! Holy cow! That's nuts!"

His mother, Mary Lou Hamlin, helped coordinate the ticket giveaway and immediately began to laugh with delight when she heard Kim and Tim's story.

"Oh my!" she said. "Isn't that something? Geez. We need to start our own Love Connection. That's so cool!"

Kim and Tim have never met the driver who set them up, but the couple wanted to pass along a message of thanks.

"This is awesome what he does for the fans," Kim says. "I'm sure they didn't expect something like this would happen, but by them doing things like this, it makes more of an impact than they realize."

Says Tim: "Thanks to them. It's a really cool little contest, and it's a big deal to get tickets from a driver. It shows they care about their fans, and that means a lot."

Next month, Kim and Tim plan to return to Daytona for the summer race and celebrate at the place where they met.

Oh, and one more thing: Dale Earnhardt Jr. has always been No. 1 on their list of favorite drivers.

"But Denny Hamlin," Kim says, "is obviously near the top now."

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