How a Penny Helped Dale Earnhardt Win the 1998 Daytona 500
A little girl, a legendary runner and a copper slug make a great racing story.
NASCAR is full of great stories, great powers, great personalities and great events. But this story started as small as it gets, with a little girl and her lucky penny. Wessa Miller was the little girl, and she loved racing and one driver in particular: Dale Earnhardt. She also suffered from spina bifida.
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Well, in 1998, thanks to the efforts of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, she had the chance to meet Earnhardt before the start of the Daytona 500. As she was her favorite rider, she brought two freebies: a hunting video and something small that would turn into something more – a lucky penny that has become synonymous with this breed and can be seen in the image above.
With all of Earnhardt’s success in racing for Richard Childress Racing (RCR), he never got to win at Daytona. In 1990, he got closer. He was leading, and on the last lap he hit metal on the track which shredded his right front tire and any chance of winning.
It was eight years later that Wessa handed him his lucky penny just before the race. As RCR’s Jerry Hailey recalled, they frantically tried to glue the lucky penny onto the dashboard using an orange paste called monkey snot, but the penny stuck better to Earnhardt’s thumb than to the dashboard. Eventually, they got the penny there even though Earnhardt’s hands were covered in glue. Dale won the 1998 Daytona 500 for the first and only time ever.
When the car was headed into the RCR museum, the penny was still stuck to the dash, and it’s there today if you look closely enough. Earnhardt clearly believed the penny had helped break his losing streak at Daytona since he contacted the Miller family after the victory and asked them to meet later in the year in Bristol, where he gave the family a blue Astro van so traveling with Wessa for medical appointments would. be easier.
A reporter, David Poole, later reunited with the ‘penny girl’ in 2008 and discovered she was still a huge racing fan, still loved Earnhardt and cried when he died in 2001 at the same Daytona track where she was. was able to meet him. . The family traveled to Charlotte for Earnhardt’s funeral, but the story didn’t end there.
Poole became good friends of the family, and when he won a 2008 National Motorsports Press Association award for a story detailing Wessa’s life, he presented the award to Wessa. He also started a charity called Pennies for Wessa. Poole later died, but his charity raised around $ 10,000 for the family, enough for them to buy Wessa a new van, one with a built-in wheelchair lift. If you visit the RCR Museum, you can see a photo sitting by the rear tire of Earnhardt and Wessa’s reunion.
When reporter Brendan Marks followed up in 2018, he found out that the Miller family had remained in the small town of Phyllis, Ky., Where they had always been. In the decades since Daytona, a lot had changed: The family bought a country store and renamed it. he The Lucky Penny. The name was later changed to Wessa: Home of the Lucky Penny. Wessa, a girl who wasn’t supposed to live past the age of five, graduated from high school in 2011. The store has a Wessa / Earnhardt-inspired menu, and people still stop by to remember the day. of 1998 where a little girl gave a big runner a special penny that changed everything.
This piece of asphalt at the RCR Museum was first laid on the Daytona International Speedway around 1978. In the summer of 2010, it was dug up to make way for a new surface. It saw a lot of history, both happy and sad, but even though many people in history have passed away, the story of a little girl and her lucky penny will live on.
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