How Willie and Dinah Mullins’ unprecedented Daytona success turned hardship into the emotional triumph they desperately needed

Dinah Mullins didn’t want to watch ARCA Menards Series qualifying Friday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway.

Since 2016, when she and her husband Willie Mullins began competing at Daytona, Dinah had only viewed time trials alongside her parents, Dutch and Marsha VanWyngeeren. On Feb. 2, Richard “Dutch” VanWyngeeren passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer.

The loss of the man Dinah called “Superman” left a gaping hole in her heart.

“I just never thought this day would come, and it came way too early,” Dinah said. “My dad was 70 years old. He had so much life in him yet. He was still, in the summers, working 15-hour days at the scrap yards. He lived life to its fullest.”

Even before the loss of her father, Dinah had faced a wave of unfamiliar emotions. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in the days leading up to the January pre-race practice at Daytona.

The emotional overload led her to prefer isolating herself in the Mullins Racing hauler while her husband powered their No. 3 Ford Mustang around The World Center of Racing for a group qualifying session unique to the Daytona ARCA 200.

“I’ve always watched qualifying with my mom and dad,” she said. “Without them there, my nerves were too much.”

Willie Mullins, driver of the #3 CorvettePart.net-Crow Wing Recycling Ford, during qualifying for the Daytona ARCA 200 for the ARCA Menards Series at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 16, 2024. (Adam Glanzman/NASCAR)
Willie Mullins pictured during qualifying for the Daytona ARCA 200 at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 16, 2024. (Photo: Adam Glanzman/NASCAR)

The Mullins’ entered the qualifying session knowing their group was arguably the strongest; it included Jake Finch, Justin Bonsignore, Shane van Gisbergen, Toni Breidinger, Ryan Huff and Tim Richmond.

“We had some of the best drivers in the country in the ARCA Menards Series,” Willie said. “We had a guy who just won a Cup race. We had all the other good short-track regulars and ARCA regulars in our group. That made us excited going into Friday morning.”

With qualifying nearly complete, Dinah emerged from the hauler to find out how her husband had qualified.

That’s when she received the surprise of her life.

“I peeked my head out the back. I barely opened the back doors and asked Jennifer Reed and Mykel-Tomas (wife and grandson to Mullins Racing crew chief Kevin Reed Sr.). I said, ‘Is it over yet?’ They said, ‘Just about.’ … I said, ‘Are we in?’ Mykel-Tomas looked at me like I had three heads and said, ‘We’re first.’

“I almost passed out.”

Dinah instantly went to find Willie, who had been standing in the ARCA Menards Series garage watching as the remaining drivers took their turns trying to knock him off the pole.

Each tried. Each failed.

Willie Mullins won the General Tire Pole Award for the first time in 28 ARCA Menards Series starts.

“It was a very emotional, heart wrenching time,” he said. “I was crying like a baby, very emotional. Everything had come together for that moment, finally. You had Kevin Reed Sr. there, Darrell Ferree, Kevin Belmont, the core group of guys that have been behind me.

“We were able to put it on the pole and lead nine laps. That was the first time I’d ever been able to lead laps in an ARCA race.”

Willie Mullins, driver of the #3 CorvettePart.net-Crow Wing Recycling Ford, during qualifying for the Daytona ARCA 200 for the ARCA Menards Series at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 16, 2024. (Adam Glanzman/NASCAR)
Willie and Dinah Mullins embrace after winning the General Tire Pole Award for the Daytona ARCA 200 at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 16, 2024. (Photo: Adam Glanzman/NASCAR)

Mullins Racing is the definition of a blue-collar race team; they won the pole at Daytona as an independent team with no factory support. Unlike some of their competition, they don’t have an engineer on staff, and they don’t have a surface plate or a pulldown rig.

The car Willie raced at Daytona was assembled in his parents’ garage with the help of a few dedicated friends who share the dream. In fact, Mullins Racing was on the verge of missing the Daytona race, but the team secured enough funding from CorvetteParts.net, Zenith Aviation, Timmy Brann Snap-On Tools, Oakley Tank Lines, KRM Custom Golf Karts and Crow Wing Recycling to make the trip possible.

“We were able to go down and be the fastest car on the property,” Willie said. “My parents allow me to use their garage to work on these cars, to build these cars. This car was literally built, painted, all done by myself and Kevin Reed and Darrell Ferree and the guys.”

WATCH: Daytona ARCA 200 highlights

The Daytona ARCA 200 didn’t go as well for Willie as qualifying did. He led the first nine laps before fading through the field. He spun once, and during a second incident, he made an incredible save that earned him the Reese’s Sweet Move of the Race. He wasn’t as fortunate the third time, when he crashed into the spinning car of Scott Melton on Lap 62.

Willie was shaken up and sore, but he otherwise escaped the crash unscathed. He considers the day a success despite the damaged car.

“It might have ended in a little bit of failure, but we succeeded way more than we ever could have dreamed,” Willie said. “It’s the exclamation point beside the Mullins name. We are there to compete. We’re not there to ride around or be also rans. We’re there to compete against the best of the best.

“We had a successful weekend, because we’re strong and a hard-working team, and we’re proud of what we do.”

Willie Mullins, driver of the #3 CorvettePart.net-Crow Wing Recycling Ford, during qualifying for the Daytona ARCA 200 for the ARCA Menards Series at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 16, 2024. (Adam Glanzman/NASCAR)
(Photo: Adam Glanzman/NASCAR)

The Mullins’ plan to take some time away from racing as Dinah begins her battle with breast cancer, which was caught early and is treatable.

The working plan is to enter the Aug. 3 ARCA race at Minnesota’s Elko Speedway, the closest track on the schedule to Dinah’s family. The team also plans to field a Limited Late Model in select events at Virginia’s Dominion Raceway with driver Colin Lozo.

In the meantime, Willie and Dinah Mullins will continue to bask in the glow of an incredible weekend at Daytona.

That glow won’t wear off anytime soon.

“Very few people get a pole; very few people get to lead laps there. It makes you appreciate it even more,” Dinah said. “Sometimes, we wonder what legacy we might leave once we’re gone. For a lot of us, it might not be much of anything. There is something comforting about knowing Willie’s name lives on in the history books now.

“Going into that race without my dad next to us was hard knowing he would have given anything to see [Willie] on the pole. We do all this in his memory. So we know he was there.”

Willie and Dinah Mullins ask that in lieu of flowers, those wishing to honor Richard ‘Dutch’ VanWyngeeren consider donating to the Confidence Learning Center, a charity that provides year-round outdoor educational and recreational experiences for people of all ages with cognitive and developmental disabilities. Click here for more information.