Trump Revs Up Friendly Crowd at Daytona International Speedway

Josh Wingrove and Jennifer Jacobs
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Trump NASCAR Daytona 500

President Donald Trump, accompanied by first lady Melania Trump, gives the instructions "gentlemen, start your engines," before the start of the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump took his campaign to the Daytona 500, seizing center stage at the popular stock-car race and courting loyal supporters in a state he needs to win.

Trump visited the Daytona International Speedway for the “Great American Race” on Sunday. He delivered remarks at a pre-race ceremony, stood on the track for the national anthem, and -- as Grand Marshal -- gave the command, “Gentlemen, start your engines.”

The president and wife Melania arrived at the Florida speedway, and got a spin around the track, in their armored Cadillac limo, known as The Beast. They also viewed an F-16 jet fly-over from the Air Force Thunderbirds. The limo then did a lap around the speedway, serving as the race’s pace car.

“It really is the Great American Race, and I look at this as almost a patriotism kind of thing,” Trump said in an interview with Fox, suggesting he’d like to “hop into one of these cars” and get into the race “if possible.” Like other U.S. presidents, Trump is forbidden to drive.

Trump followed in the footsteps of George W. Bush, who made a similar visit in 2004 while seeking re-election. The president’s campaign planned to air an ad during TV coverage of the race, and fly a Trump banner above it -- courting NASCAR fans and locals in Florida, a state Trump can’t afford to lose this year.

Patriot Fans

“NASCAR fans are patriots who support the president in huge numbers,” said Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale. Trump fans were out in force in the stands at Daytona, and there were chants of “Four More Years.”

Trump has gravitated increasingly toward friendly sports crowds -- including at college football games, mixed martial arts bouts and now NASCAR -- after facing boos at a Washington Nationals-Houston Astros baseball playoff game in October, a few miles from the White House.

Trump was endorsed in 2016 by Brian France, chairman and chief executive officer of NASCAR. Several members of the France family and other NASCAR officials were among the presidential greeting party on Sunday.

NASCAR’s fan base closely overlaps with the President’s -- it’s more popular among men and bigger in the South and Midwest. The stock car racing circuit has faced sagging attendance and television ratings.

--With assistance from Mario Parker and Justin Sink.

To contact the reporters on this story: Josh Wingrove in Washington at jwingrove4@bloomberg.net;Jennifer Jacobs in Washington at jjacobs68@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alex Wayne at awayne3@bloomberg.net, Ros Krasny, Ian Fisher

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