Seven Valleys resident Ed Polakoff, left, is presented with a ceremonial check from Sunoco for winning the grand prize 5,000 gallons of free gas. He is
Seven Valleys resident Ed Polakoff, left, is presented with a ceremonial check from Sunoco for winning the grand prize 5,000 gallons of free gas. He is joined by Pat Anderson, center, who entered him in the contest, and local Sunoco Manager John Fishpaw. (Candy Woodall)

The Sunoco decal is still in his car's rear window.

And Seven Valleys resident Ed Polakoff said he'll probably never take it off.

It was first affixed to the back window of his white, 2010 Hyundai Accent last summer, and in January he learned it landed him a grand prize of 5,000 gallons of free gas.

Polakoff said he hasn't won anything since he snagged a record album as a kid.

"I was so excited. I still can't believe it," he said.

But the box full of gift cards he can redeem for the free gas comes as a welcome surprise for the 54-year-old who used to fix and install X-ray equipment before being sidelined by a disability.

Pat Anderson, the Manchester woman who helped Polakoff get the grand prize, was struggling with her own illness at the time she registered him to win.

"I was going through radiation last year for breast cancer. So I looked kind of funny when I approached him, but I still had fun," she said.

Anderson works for Ohio-based RitterAssociates as an independent contractor who frequently serves as a mystery shopper. For Sunoco, she was a "spotter."

As a spotter she visited 110 to 120 Sunoco stations throughout York, Lancaster, Harrisburg and Maryland each month of the gas hub's eighth-annual contest. If she spotted a customer with a Sunoco decal displayed on their vehicle, she gave them a $10 gas card and chance to win the grand prize.

"When I realized the winner was from my area, I was so excited," she said.

Polakoff is the first winner from York County, said company spokesman Joe McGinn.

Sunoco has given out 8 million decals during each of the contest's eight years. A little less than 10,000 customers are spotted with the decals each year, he said.

The national contest is held annually throughout Sunoco's service area across 4,900 locations in 24 states, McGinn said.

Those 5,000 gallons can be redeemed at any Sunoco, and Polakoff said they would probably last four to five years.

He plans to utilize those locations and his winnings by traveling west this summer to visit family in Arizona, California and Utah.

His wife, Christine Polakoff, said they might have eventually taken the trip anyway to visit children, grandchildren and her side of the family, but the free gas makes it a lot easier.

"It would've been a lot more difficult to go across the country without it," she said. "This definitely planted the seed and gave us the boost we needed."

- Candy Woodall can also be reached at cwoodall@yorkdispatch.com.