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Babydog, in the passing lane: Morgantown couple wins ‘Vette as part of vaxx sweepstakes

Mary and Jeff Darnell are like a lot of married couples in that way.

That is, they measure the markers of their lives in four-wheeled increments.

What they were driving, when whatever it was, happened.

“Jeff used to have this little red Mustang with a T-top,” Mary said Thursday. “Pretty cool.”

That’s back when they were dating, and the future – pardon the car cliché – really was an open road.

Now, 35 years later, the Morgantown couple had been getting by with a 2005 Toyota Tundra, with 120,000 miles.

“Had been,” because that ride is currently in the garage with the hood popped.

And these days, the present metaphorical road hasn’t exactly been smooth for the husband and wife.

Jeff, who worked nearly three decades at Mylan Pharmaceuticals, was among the employees left idling in the parking lot after the Viatris merger and subsequent padlocking this summer.

On Thursday, though, they had another four-wheeled moment to mark.

That was when Gov. Jim Justice rolled into the circular drive of WVU’s Erickson Alumni Center with another vehicle in hot pursuit.

OK, so the second car wasn’t speeding – but it sure looked fast.

Even while sitting still.

“Are you serious?” Mary blurted, when she first spied it. “I’m driving it first.”

“Get outta town,” Jeff replied. “I never win anything.”

“Well, you did today,” Justice said.

With Babydog, his faithful English bulldog pup riding shotgun, Justice presented the couple with a 2021 Corvette, as part of the vaccine sweepstakes bearing the doggo’s name.

That was a day that included stops in Kanawha, Barbour and Upshur counties, where Justice awarded full-ride scholarships to three high school students as part of the promotion.

Other offerings included free gasoline and WVU season tickets.

Visit for a complete list of Thursday’s winners.

In the meantime, the final round of the sweepstakes is next week when another car will be given.

Whatever works, the governor said.

“Look, we just have to keep getting people vaccinated,” Justice said. “It saves lives.”

A total 3,670 West Virginians have lost their lives from COVID complications as of Thursday, according the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

Monongalia County was showing orange on the Alert Map, but 31 other counties were still parked in the red.

Which was also the hue Jeff Darnell couldn’t keep his eyes off of at Erickson.

The low-slung sports car was done out in the aptly named “Adrenaline Red,” and came courtesy of Yes Chevrolet in Hurricane, Putnum County.

Darnell received a phone call early Thursday hinting at a prize that he initially thought was a scam.

Two West Virginia state troopers hinted a little when they dispatched to bring the couple to the alumni center.

“One of them said, ‘We can’t tell you what you won,’” Mary recalled. “They did say, ‘You’re gonna like it.’ We went through the process of elimination and thought we might be getting the ‘Vette.”

There was no thought required when getting the COVID shot, her husband said.

“We wanted to be safe,” he said, “and we wanted to keep people safe.”

Thursday afternoon, they just wanted to cruise in their two-seater sports car with the “BABYDOG” personalized plate.

“I say Route 66,” Jeff said.

Mary’s reply?

“We’ll pack light.”

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