TAMPA — Brenna McPhee didn't clap her hands or jump for joy. Instead she stood quietly, a tight grin on her face.
It didn't seem real. Had she really just won a new car?
"I'm kind of in shock," the 17-year-old Armwood High graduate said.
Her key still dangled from the small car's silver door. She had been the one to unlock the 2012 Scion xD.
It was the grand prize of the Perfect Car for Perfect Attendance event at Toyota of Tampa Bay Saturday.
More than 200 Hillsborough County high school seniors had qualified for a chance to win the car by not missing a day of school during the last semester.
Names were drawn one by one. Six others had tried to unlock the car before McPhee, each twisting their key this way and that before walking dejectedly back to their seats.
"She told me she was going to win this," McPhee's father, Richard McPhee said. "I didn't believe her."
The prize couldn't have come at a better time.
Five years ago, McPhee's mother died of cancer. Her father quit his job as a surgical assistant at Tampa General Hospital to take care of his two daughters. Then, last fall, he had a stroke.
"It's been so up and down," Richard McPhee said.
But lately, things seem to be falling into place.
"My luck is finally turning around," Brenna McPhee said. "The last couple of months have been amazing."
McPhee is headed in August to Florida Gulf Coast University, where she received a full academic scholarship to study biology. On Tuesday she turns 18.
She plans to take the new car with her to college. Its shiny paint and slick radio made every sick day she spent at school worth it, she said. Her current car, a Ford Focus with a manual transmission, will be passed down to her sister.
"I'll have to teach my sister how to drive a stick shift so she can have it," McPhee said.
Toyota of Tampa Bay covered the registration and tax costs associated with the car. It's the second year the dealership has held the event.
When the paperwork was finished, McPhee sat behind the wheel and her dad took the passenger seat. She dropped him off by his parked car, drove gingerly over the speed bumps and out into the world.
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2442.