It’s hard to believe that The Intimidator actually only ever won the iconic Daytona 500 race one time in his legendary career.
Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s first and only Great American race win came later in his career, on February 15th, 1998. And he credited the win that day to then 6-year-old Wessa Miller.
She had a dream to meet him, and her dream became a reality after the Make-A-Wish Foundation set it all up at the 40th running of the race. Wessa was diagnosed with spina bifida, and brought a lucky penny to that race just for Dale Sr.
Her family actually drove to the race from Kentucky, and Wessa said in a 2018 interview with NASCAR that he was her hero:
“He was my only hero. That’s the only race car driver I liked.”
She first met him the day before the race, after Sr. had a rough go at practice and was set to meet with his crew chief Larry McReynolds and team owner Richard Childress to discuss whether to change the engine (a massive decision to make on the eve of such a big race).
But that didn’t get in the way of him and his sweet interaction with Wessa, as well as several other Make-A-Wish children, who were there that day to meet Dale in an office at Daytona.
Wessa handed him a copper penny, telling him she’d rubbed it and it would bring him good luck. There was no doubt in her mind that he would win that race, and he smiled and said he hoped she was right:
“The little girl give me a penny, and said ‘You’re gonna win the Daytona 500, this is your good luck penny.’
But it stuck on the dash, won the Daytona 500 with good luck from her. Thank God for angels, and I think she was our angel here.”
Other kids gave him gifts, too, which he passed along to his staff to keep and store to take home… but he kept her penny and actually glued it to the dash of his car before the race started.
He spent quite a bit of time chatting with Wessa, as his crew chief grew increasingly frustrated waiting to meet and figure out what to do about the car. Dale finally made his way to the garage, and Larry said he was on a mission… but not to talk about the engine:
“He walked by me like I didn’t even exist.
I’m like, ‘What in the world is he doing?’ He’s digging through the tool box. He’s got something in his hand. Finally, I walk over there.
‘Dude what are you doing?’ (He said,) ‘I’ve got something I’ve got to do. Where’s the yellow glue?'”
Larry quickly figured out what was going on, and of course, couldn’t help but melt a little knowing that The Intimidator had taken that so to heart and was deeply affected by that sweet little girl:
“He had enough yellow glue on that one penny to glue a dollar’s worth of pennies on the dash.”
The Daytona 500 is one of the races that many drivers want to win more than any other, and it eluded Sr. for many years as he dominated at pretty much every other race at that track – and every track track – for decades. And as the laps went by, he was able to dominate the entire time and ultimately get that long sought after victory.
He had lost the race 19 times prior, but on this day, that dry spell was no more.
And Wessa and her family had no idea what he’d done with the penny, and that he’d even talked to the media post-race about meeting her and glueing it to the dash.
A family friend back home happened to hear about the story, and told them that it was all over the press in regards to his win.
After a quick trip to Disney World the next day, the Miller family drove back to Daytona to see the museum where Dale’s winning car was on display. Sure enough, the penny was right there inside glued to the dash.
After they returned home, the Earnhardt family invited Wessa and her family to Bristol Motor Speedway, where Dale introduced her to all the drivers.
And not only that, but he asked them what they needed to help make Wessa’s life easier from a medical standpoint, and bought the Millers a blue Chevrolet van (at Wessa’s request) to drive her to and from her regular medical appointments in Lexington, Kentucky, which was a four-hour one-way trip from their home.
Wessa saw Dale one more time in 2000, at an open house at one of his car dealerships. When he saw her, he shouted her name across the room and insisted she sit with him for the entire event.
Of course, Dale Sr. tragically passed away in an accident at the Daytona 500 the following year, and Wessa, along with the rest of world, was crushed. Her family attended his funeral, but she wouldn’t watch racing for a year after that.
We all know Dale built an entire career on being a total badass with a rough and rowdy exterior, but it’s always amazing to get a peek into the kind of man he really was deep down.
The fact that a simple penny from a little girl meant so much to him is really incredible, and what he did for her family in terms of helping them and providing what he could to make life a little easier is so beautiful.
I don’t think I’ll ever not get chills hearing this story…
Here’s a little more about it from Wessa and her mom, and how much it still means to them all these decades later: