Austin Dillon thought it was just another run-of-the-mill interview.
After all, the 27-year-old NASCAR driver has had plenty of those since Sunday night, when he won his first Daytona 500. But instead, as he answered questions Wednesday morning at Richard Childress Racing, he was interrupted by a tap on his shoulder and a young voice.
Dillon turned around, and when he saw who had tapped him, he realized what was going on – a reunion.
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There was Jordan, the 11-year-old boy from Bradenton, Fla., who gave Dillon a lucky penny during the week before his Daytona 500 victory. The penny harkened back to the 1998 Daytona 500 two decades ago, when Wessa Miller famously gave Dale Earnhardt a lucky penny before the only Daytona 500 victory of his career.
“All of a sudden (he came up) from behind me, and I didn’t hear him sneaking up or nothing,” Dillon said. “That was cool.”
As organic as the original lucky penny story was, Jordan and Dillon’s was the same. Dillon saw Jordan in an autograph line the weekend before the Daytona 500, and Dillon gave Jordan his hat (and signed it) if Jordan agreed to be his fan. Jordan said of course he would.
But the next day, Jordan wanted to repay Dillon’s kindness.
“He said Austin was so nice to him the night before with the hat, so he had to have something for him,” said Michelle Logue, Jordan’s grandmother, who accompanied him to RCR. “He said, ‘I don’t have nothing to give him!’ The other two kids (near him) had a horseshoe and a four-leaf clover, but it was girlish and he didn’t want that, so he came up with the penny.”
Dillon, who was in Victory Lane with Earnhardt all those years ago, remembered the original penny story – and how it turned out. So he decided to glue his penny in the car, too.
“There’s a lot more to this story,” Dillon’s grandfather, team owner Richard Childress, said. “There’s the young kid who gave (Dillon) a penny, and how ironic is that? He got this penny and glued it on the dash.
“It’s almost like a movie script.”
After the surprise meeting, Dillon showed Jordan around the RCR race floor. Jordan got to sit in the No. 3 car Dillon will drive in Atlanta this weekend, and even got to keep some of the lug nuts off the back tires.
All that in addition to his hat, of course, which he wore all day Wednesday.
Eventually Jordan had the chance to meet Bubba Wallace Jr., who showed up for Dillon’s celebratory luncheon, and Childress. Then he sat with his new favorite race team for lunch, listening as Dillon told their story.
Most of the day, Jordan was quiet, soaking in the moment. But he did say one thing that made his pure intentions obvious.
“Most pennies, people just walk past them,” he said, “but it was something I could give him for luck.”
Dillon, for a million reasons, appreciates the gesture. And the penny.
“It’s really special,” Dillon said. “That penny deserves a home. You know, most pennies are on the ground for a long time. That one’s got a home and it’ll stick there in the car.”
That’s OK, though, because Jordan has a plan.
His 12th birthday is in July, the day before the next NASCAR Cup series race at Daytona International Speedway.
Jordan is hoping to go ... and bring Dillon another lucky penny while he’s there.
“He has a penny for the July race already,” Logue said. “It’s in his pocket right now.”