On Feb. 15, 1998, the legendary Dale Earnhardt finally won his one and only Daytona 500, and along with it won the hearts of countless NASCAR fans looking for a hero.
But for Wessa Miller, Dale was a hero long before he won the all-American race.
Back in 1998, Wessa Miller was just 6 years old and dealing with a whole heap of medical issues and not a lot of hope. Yet, she found hope in her favorite driver, Dale. Thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Wessa was able to meet Dale and give him a little token of love that would end up becoming a piece of NASCAR history.
“Saturday afternoon after the last practice, I went and met five Make-A-Wish kids and a little girl was in a wheelchair,” Dale said after his win, as seen in footage included in a special YouTube tribute released by NASCAR on Feb. 15. “She was disabled. The little girl gave me a penny and she said, ‘You are going to win the Daytona 500.’ I stuck it on the dash, and thank God for angels. I think she was our angel.”
Twenty years after that emotional moment and his subsequent win, Dale is no longer with us, having lost his life on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
But despite the odds, Wessa is still with us.
“I just wish everyone [knew] the kind of guy he was behind the scenes,” said her mother, Juanita Miller, in a brand-new interview in which she revealed that Dale actually bought the family a van in 1998 so that they could come see him at another race. “I know he was the Intimidator, but what I got to see was a very nice, big-hearted man.”
“That’s the kind of race car driver I like,” added Wessa, who has spina bifida and is paralyzed from her waist down. “He’s the only race car driver I will ever like.”
We know what you mean, Wessa.
This is just one of the many stories that make the Daytona 500 legendary. So we would love to hear from you about your own stories. Do you remember Dale’s 1998 win? Do you remember that lucky penny or seeing that little girl in the wheelchair? And most of all, do you agree that these are the stories that make NASCAR such an amazing sport to watch?
Let us know in the comments.