RICHMOND, Va. — The start of 2009 was not a good one for Joe Denette.
The Thornburg man was laid off in January from his job at Brookfield Homes, where he had worked as a service technician for the last seven years. A message he posted on his Facebook page said it all: "You don't work, you don't eat."
But that didn't stop him from participating in two of his cherished hobbies--watching NASCAR races and playing the lottery.
His luck began to change when he won four tickets to the May 2 NASCAR race in Richmond in a radio contest.
And his whole life changed the day of the race, when he found out he was holding a lottery ticket worth $75.6 million.
Denette, 47, matched all six numbers in the May 1 Mega Millions drawing, winning the third-largest prize in Virginia Lottery history. He opted for a cash buyout worth $47.8 million instead of taking the full jackpot over 26 years.
In that Mega Millions drawing, three winning lottery tickets from California, Ohio, and Virginia equally shared the $227 million jackpot.
"It's unreal," he said at a news conference in Richmond yesterday. "It couldn't have come at a better time."
When Denette realized he had won the money, he had to make a decision about what to do with his race tickets and his winning lottery ticket.
So what did he do?
He signed the lottery ticket and handed it over to his mother for safekeeping.
"She asked me where I was going, and I said the race," he recounted yesterday.
After securing an attorney and financial guidance, Denette picked up his big check from the Virginia Lottery yesterday.
Lottery officials also helped fulfill another one of his dreams. He rode a few laps around the track at Richmond International Raceway with Hermie Sadler, a NASCAR driver and commentator and brother of driver Elliot Sadler.
"This is the best thing that has happened to me," Denette said.
He bought the winning ticket at Joyful Convenience Market on Mudd Tavern Road in Thornburg. The store receives a $50,000 retailer bonus for selling the winning ticket.
The winning numbers were 9, 16, 24, 40, 43 and the Mega Ball number was 35. Denette said they were randomly chosen by the computer.
"I used to hate computers," Denette told lottery officials. "Not anymore."
Store manager Bruce Park sold the winning ticket to Denette, who Park said is a regular customer.
"I feel like a lucky guy to sell him the winning ticket," Park said. "But I wish I had played those numbers."
Denette, who said he spends about $23 a week buying tickets, has been playing the lottery for at least 20 years. He plans to continue that practice. He had a ticket in his pocket yesterday that he had bought that morning.
He hasn't decided how to spend the money yet. But the options are limitless since he is single and has no children.
Denette's life to this point has been that of, well, an average Joe. He likes working in the yard, building things and enjoying life, he said.
He said he'll probably use his newfound wealth to go to more races. He also said he has turned off his cell phone, and he knows who his real friends are.
But Denette, who has been unemployed for four months, said being a multimillionaire still hasn't sunk in.
"One day you don't have a job, the next day you don't have to worry about a job," he said. "You never know."
Joe Denette of Spotsylvania County won a $75.6 million share of the Virginia Lottery's Mega Millions jackpot from the May 1 drawing. He's taking the payout of $47.8 million in cash and accepted the check yesterday.
Accepting a check yesterday at the Richmond International Raceway for $75.6 million in lottery winnings, Joe Denette of Spotsylvania County reached into his pocket and showed that he had purchased a ticket for last night's drawing.
Thanks to hearsetrax for the tip.