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Denny Hamlin in victory lane at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2022. (NASCAR photo)

BOURCIER: Denny & Marcus, Swinging Handbags

INDIANAPOLIS – A hundred years from now, when archivists try to pin down automobile racing’s historic highs and lows, they’re going to have a tough time deciding on its apogee.

But there will be no denying that its low point was reached in the late-night and early-morning hours of April 4-5, 2024, in a social-media slapfest between NASCAR star Denny Hamlin and Speedway Motorsports CEO Marcus Smith. It had all the grace of a “Real Housewives” episode.

To borrow a British phrase reserved for occasions when things get truly catty, this was handbags at dawn.

Now, there was a time when combining the words “handbag” and “NASCAR” raised a smile, because they evoked a tale out of stock car racing’s rough-and-tumble ’50s. Lee Petty and DeWayne “Tiny” Lund exchanged words and then punches during driver introductions at some long-gone dirt track.

Lund was a huge bear of a man with a hot temper and the quick fists to back it up. Petty, too, was skilled with his hands, but size was winning this fight, which meant that Lee was losing. When Lee’s sons, Richard and Maurice, came to their father’s aid, Lund brushed them off like lint.

Into the fray came Elizabeth Petty, Lee’s wife, swinging her purse in the direction of Lund’s head. Fighting was out of character for Miz Petty, a churchgoer. But Lee’s racing paid for the Petty family’s groceries, and she couldn’t have him sitting out that night’s event with a broken nose and eyes swollen shut.

The purse itself didn’t hurt Tiny, but he damn sure felt a sharp blow from the pistol Elizabeth Petty had stashed inside.

That was then. And this is now.

In the dwindling moments of a Thursday night, Hamlin stumbled across a Twitter/X post that appeared to show Sonoma Raceway’s new asphalt surface tearing up during a test. Sonoma is a Speedway Motorsports property, as are Atlanta Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Dover Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kentucky Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Nashville Superspeedway, Texas Motor Speedway and North Wilkesboro Speedway.

Speedway Motorsports was the baby of O. Bruton Smith, Marcus’ dad and perhaps American racing’s most audacious executive. Bruton Smith died in 2022, by which time Marcus had been CEO for seven years.

It can be assumed that, at least on the night of April 4, Hamlin was no great fan of Marcus Smith, Speedway Motorsports or the outfit’s attention to its facilities. Denny shared the photo of the beaten-up Sonoma track surface, and added, “When paving on a budget goes wrong. (North Wilkesboro) will be next.”

Now, there’s nothing inappropriate about a driver criticizing a track owner or a sanctioning body. It’s healthy for the sport’s ruling powers to get an occasional kick in the pants, particularly from someone who’s put in his time, and Hamlin has more than earned the right to his opinion. Which is something that Marcus Smith might have considered.

Might, but didn’t. Smith blew his only opportunity to let the matter die quietly. No one makes good decisions after midnight.

Smith fired back, “This is a great post from somebody who doesn’t know all the information. Ignorance on display for all the world to see!”

Then came a couple of “clapping” emojis and another message from Smith: “I will delete this tweet when @dennyhamlin sends me a text or gives me a call directly to ask why (the Sonoma situation) is happening.”

Hamlin, apparently delighted to find a virtual pen pal at that hour, shot back, “You dont (sic) need to delete. We’ve seen your reconfig (sic) record.”

This was more than Smith could abide. Having blown right past the highway sign reading, “Last Chance to Exit with Dignity,” he went all in. Short on commas but long on outrage, he got those fingers dancing.

“Yes we take risks, sometimes they work sometimes they don’t,” wrote Smith. “We’ve seen your attempt of (sic) the championship as well.”


Apropos of nothing, Smith went on: “When you have a chance, maybe you could give me some golf tips.”

Just when you were sure that the tone of this discussion had bottomed out, Hamlin kept digging. “Heres (sic) your tip,” he typed. “Let someone else run your business before you blow everything your dad gave you.”

In a thread full of cheap shots, Hamlin’s “dad” crack was, shall we say, the least expensive. Marcus Smith played it about as well as he could: “So proud of my dad! Hall of Famer! If he had a Twitter/X account, I don’t think his comment would be family friendly.”

This would have been another nice spot for Smith to stand down. But, again, wisdom is a tool rarely used once the Cinderella hour has come and gone. He continued: “So listen here, almost @NASCAR Champion, you keep working at it and one day you’re gonna get a big trophy.”

Denny Hamlin is 43 years old. Marcus Smith is 51.

One more time: Denny Hamlin is 43. Marcus Smith is 51. There ought to be an age limit on “Nyah-nyah, nyah-nyah-nyah.”

Who to blame? Well, Hamlin started it, but Smith should have known better. We expect athletes — drivers, in this case — to be high-strung and prone to outbursts, but the billionaire scion of a sports empire ought to be above this sort of thing.

On the other hand, Hamlin has recently shown a real knack for getting under people’s skin, and he seems eager to polish that skill. His late-career push to be seen as NASCAR’s bad boy looks more than a little bit contrived. If Marcus Smith has simply grown tired of Denny’s act, he is not alone.

This much is clear: Neither of them knows the meaning of the term “high road.” Shame on them both.

The story of Elizabeth Petty brandishing her handbag will only get funnier with time. Denny Hamlin and Marcus Smith waving theirs around on social media will forever be catty and sad.


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