February 15, 1998 will go down in NASCAR history. This is the day that Dale Earnhardt finally won the Daytona 500 in his nineteenth attempt. The “intimidator” was no longer intimidated by the Great American Race. He had accomplished almost everything a stock car racer could dream of. He was a Cup champion. He had won many races but never the World Series of Racing, The Daytona 500.
Many people will remember this race fondly. The view as every driver, crew member and owner stood along pit road to congratulate Dale Earnhardt will live on the memories of NASCAR fans forever. But, there were few people that were more excited that day, than Wessa Miller.
Most NASCAR fans have heard the dramatic story of how a young girl, Wessa Miller told Dale Earnhardt that all he needed to win the Daytona 500 was a little luck. Wessa, who suffered from Spina bifida, a developmental birth defect which literally means “split spine”. Gave Dale Earnhardt a lucky penny that day. He glued it to the dashboard of his No. 3 car that day and when the dust had settled Dale Earnhardt was the newest winner of the Daytona 500.
Shortly after the race Dale Earnhardt invited Wessa and her family to Bristol Motorspeedway, where he gave them a van to drive that would help to get Wessa and her wheelchair to and from medical appoints with ease. He showed his appreciation to a little girl who knew that all he needed was some luck.
When Dale Earnhardt was tragically killed during the last lap of the Daytona 500 in 2001, the racing world was devastated. His funeral was not open to the public, but one special family was included, the family of Wessa Miller.
10 years later Sirius XM Radio host, David Poole began to wonder what had happened to that little girl with the lucky penny. Wessa was now 16 years old and her family faced daily obstacles that many of us would find daunting. He decided to start a fund to help Wessa’s family with the huge costs of her medical care. The fund is called Pennies For Wessa.
On March 21-22 of this year Wessa and her family returned to Bristol. The television show NASCAR Angels will highlight her story in an upcoming episode which will appear somewhere around May 9th and 10th. She met a number of the drivers including her new favorite, Dale Earnhart Jr.
Richard Childress is making a $1000 donation to Pennies for Wessa and Rusty Wallace is contributing $5000 from the proceeds from the Saturday Night Special Legends race. The NASCAR Foundation teamed up with NASCAR Angels and Motor Racing Outreach to conduct an online auction with lots of autographed memorabilia from many of the Sprint Cup drivers. The proceeds will go to Motor Racing Outreach to fund many projects like Pennies for Wessa.
NASCAR has not forgotten the little girl with the lucky penny, just as they will never forget the legendary Dale Earnhardt.