J. R. Triplett walked on the stage here Thursday with a toothpick in his mouth, sweetheart by his side and the first hunk of his Mega Millions lottery payout not exactly burning a hole in his pocket.

Triplett, 69, has worked as a truck driver for 47 years, but today, after coming forward with the winning, $239 million ticket, he was talking NASCAR.

"I've learned from those ol' boys, after they win a race, how to talk a little bit about things," Triplett said. And he did.

He sent out love to his childhood churches, his buddies in the Elks Lodge, the troops and the truckers who haul the nation's loads. He talked of how his wife of 35 years, Peggy, fell to her knees when, that morning six weeks ago, he told her, "Sweetheart, we got the numbers." He talked about handing the ticket over to his brother-in-law, to lock it in his home safe while they lined up lawyers and accountants.

"I've been a poor man. Now I'm a rich man," Triplett said. "I'll probably buy me a lot of real estate -- land -- 'cause they don't make no more dirt, you know."

Triplett lives in the Winchester area, in Virginia's northern tip, not far from where he walked into the Red Apple convenience store in Stephens City after cashing a payroll check. He was adding five more tickets onto his 25-year lottery habit.

He chose to get a smaller take -- about $141 million -- immediately, rather than wait for 26 annual payments of $9.19 million. After cutting Uncle Sam 25 percent and the commonwealth 4 percent, he'll be taking home about $100 million sometime in the next week, lottery officials said, and could have to pay additional taxes later.

Despite his protests, and claims of cool -- "To this day it doesn't excite me too much" -- Triplett acknowledged being tripped up by the magnitude of what's happening to him. "I thought I was tougher than this," he said, choking up, as he described their first purchase.

Triplett said a boyhood friend who died about 25 years ago was buried without a tombstone. After pausing to compose himself, he added: "I guess I was raised up poor, but he was a lot poorer than me. . . . I'm a believer. I talk to the Lord a lot. And I said, 'Lord, if you ever give me a few extra bucks, I'm going to go buy my friend a tombstone.' "

Then he added: "It's on the way."

"It's the first thing we did," said Peggy Triplett.

While the buoyant first moments are often sweet, the Tripletts soon will face problems for which they may receive little sympathy, according to Steven J. Danish, a psychology professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who has counseled lottery winners in the past dozen years.

The crush of financial aid requests from every quarter can morph from annoying to threatening, he said.

More important, for families like the Tripletts and their predecessors, are the existential choices that face a family that is suddenly awash in virtually uncountable cash, Danish said.

"If people don't know what they're doing before they get the money, they won't know what to do after they get the money. The money is not nirvana," Danish said. "What are they going to do a month from now?"

For at least a pair of the Tripletts' Winchester neighbors, those questions are more than theoretical. Bruce and Sharon Carlson won the lottery three days before the Tripletts did. Despite their comparatively paltry winnings of $175,000, they said they've nevertheless learned the basic lessons.

"I have no clue of what in the world they would do with all that money," said Sharon Carlson. "I hope they see it's not only good for them, but it could be good for so many other people."

Her family's winnings are going toward her high school daughter's college fund, to a cleaning service for her ailing mother, and to help out some friends, among other things, she said.

For Harry Stimpson, owner of the Tripletts' lucky Red Apple store, the huge jackpot will, at least theoretically, make him $25,000 richer. That bonus from the lottery will likely mean bonuses for the staff, he said, just as was the case in 1991, when one of his clerks sold another multimillion-dollar lottery ticket.

Lottery boosters today basked in the free publicity -- and hyperbole -- that accompanies such big-money moments. Penelope Kyle, executive director of the Virginia Lottery, said the $239 million total represented the second-largest jackpot won by a single ticket. Proceeds in Virginia go to fund education. Kyle called the slip from the 11-state Mega Millions lottery "the most talked about piece of paper, not only in the United States, but in the world."

But John Allen Paulos, author of "A Mathematician Plays the Stock Market," said lotteries can be as alluring as the winnings are nearly unattainable. J.R. Triplett's odds of winning were 1 in 135 million.

A person is approximately 20,000 times as likely to die in a car crash in the next year as to win the Mega Millions lottery; about 250,000 times as likely to die from cancer in the next year, Paulos said.

"If you buy a ticket or two and daydream a bit about winning, the lottery is an inexpensive fantasy," Paulos said. "If you buy lots of tickets that you can't easily afford, the lottery is a very regressive tax."

Staff researcher Mary Lou White contributed to this report.

Peggy and J.R. Triplett's lottery check is made out for $239 million, but after taxes and taking the smaller, but immediate, lump-sum payment, they'll end up with closer to $100 million.The first thing Peggy and J.R. Triplett did with their jackpot was buy a tombstone for one of his childhood friends who died years ago. "I guess I was raised up poor, but he was a lot poorer than me," J.R. Triplett said.