Dale Earnhart Sr. is held as one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history. A win at the Daytona 500 escaped Earnhardt through much of his career but came to fruition in 1998. The incredible moment occurred after receiving a special gift of a penny from a young fan that he believed helped earn that victory.
Dale Earnhardt’s NASCAR Career
Dale Earnhardt Sr. spent nearly three decades on the NASCAR track, where he cemented himself as an all-time great.
Earnhardt accomplished it all that saw him tie the all-time mark with seven Cup Series championships while earning 76 career Cup Series race wins. His strong personality and aggressive driving style earned him the legendary nickname of “The Intimidator.”
However, a win at the Daytona 500 eluded him for much of his career until 1998 after receiving a unique gift from a young fan.
Dale Earnhardt Sr. believed a penny helped him Finally Win the Daytona 500
Through the first 19 years of Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s career, he failed to grab a win at the Daytona 500.
Many different issues such as engine failures, crashes, and last-lap passes prevented him from winning that race. However, things changed in 1998 as Earnhardt managed to grab his first and only career win in that event.
His journey before that 20th attempt was a bit different. In that instance, he worked with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, where he met then six-year-old Wessa Miller, a big Earnhardt fan with spina bifida.
It’s a condition where the spinal cord is malformed without the protective soft tissue and skeletal coverings, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down.
Before the 1998 Daytona 500, Miller met with Earnhardt a day before the race, where she gave him the gift of a penny. After the two met, the legendary driver used tire glue to stick it to the dashboard.
“The little girl gave me the penny and said ‘You’re going to win the Daytona 500,” Earnhardt said via NASCAR. “This is your good luck penny. It’s stuck on the dash [and I] won the Daytona 500 from the good luck from her. Thank god for angels and I think she is our angel here.”
Following earning the Daytona 500 win, Earnhardt spoke to the media, where he credited the penny for helping lift him over the top. Juanita Miller, Wessa’s mother, recalled the disbelief of figuring out what Earnhardt had done with her daughter’s gift. (H/T Mountain News WYMT)
“Somebody called us and said, ‘Did Wessa give him a penny’ and I said ‘Yeah why?’… and they said ‘He glued it to his dash and that’s why he’s saying he won the race,’ oh we were excited then!” Juanita explained.
Earnhardt attempted to keep the penny with him, but the item wound up staying in the car, where it now resides in the Richard Childress Racing Museum. Although it was only a penny, it’s something that Earnhardt fostered a strong connection to that moment with Miller.
Everlasting NASCAR legacy
Although Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s life ended abruptly three years later on that same track, his legacy has only grown stronger.
Earnhardt was one of the faces of the sport throughout his illustrious career, which the unwavering admiration lives on through the fans. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has only created additional avenues to honor his father with his own racing career, weekly podcast, co-ownership of JR Motorsports, and his broadcast duties with NBC Sports.
He has also made it a life mission to collect items from his dad’s career to shed a brighter light on his legacy. It may be two decades since Dale Sr. passed away, but his name and recognition in NASCAR will last forever.