President Donald Trump is taking his campaign to the Daytona 500, seizing center stage at the popular race with the presidency’s most iconic vehicles as he looks to lock down support from his base in the aftermath of the impeachment trial.
Trump will visit the Daytona International Speedway for the “Great American Race” on Sunday. He’ll take part in pre-race ceremony before personally announcing that the drivers should start their engines, an official familiar with plans said. Trump will also be driven partially around the track in his armored Cadillac limo, known as The Beast, had have a fly-by from Air Force One, the presidential jet.
Trump is following in the footsteps of George W. Bush, who made a similar visit in 2004 while seeking re-election. The president’s campaign will 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.
“NASCAR fans are patriots who support the president in huge numbers,” said Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale.
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, and tweeted Friday that he was looking forward to seeing France at the race. Congressman Michael Waltz, a Republican whose district includes Daytona Beach, will also join Trump at the race.
“The Daytona 500 is a family-friendly, patriotic, All-American event and I was proud to invite President Trump to this year’s Great American Race,” Waltz said in a statement. Daytona International Speedway President Chip Wile said the event was “honored” that Trump had chosend to “experience the pageantry and excitement” of the race.”
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.