President Trump visited the NASCAR Daytona 500 in what appeared to be a campaign event as he seeks reelection in 2020. “Daytona International Speedway, we love our country and it’s truly an honor to be with all of you at the Great American Race,” Trump, who was serving as grand marshall, told the gathered crowd before delivering the iconic opening line, “Gentleman, start your engines.”
The president pulled out all the stops for the race. Not only did Air Force One circle the track from 800 feet in the sky as Fox Sports commentators gushed, but Trump also took a lap around the track in the presidential limo nicknamed “The Beast.”
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) February 16, 2020
The President praises “the god that made us free” and starts pointing at the sky in random directions pic.twitter.com/U4yFGPWl24
— Acyn Torabi (@Acyn) February 16, 2020
This was not just a presidential appearance, it also looked very much like a campaign event. Trump’s campaign planned to fly an aerial banner over the track and scheduled an ad to run during the TV broadcast to reach the estimated 9 million viewers watching from home.
Trump is not the first Republican president to visit the Daytona speedway for NASCAR’s biggest event of the year. Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush all made appearances at the race, which makes sense considering NASCAR’s viewing audience tends to be mostly Republican and overwhelmingly (91 percent) white.
As Ari Fleischer, George W. Bush’s former press secretary told the AP, “There’s a real sense of positive, overwhelming affirmation to hear the roar of the crowd. What politician doesn’t want that? Secondly, there’s what I call the reverberation effect. People watching at home, who hear the roar of the crowd for a president, that can drive them toward some sense of approval or fondness or liking for the president.”
And the president’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale, said in a statement, “NASCAR fans are patriots who support the president in huge numbers, so we definitely wanted to communicate directly with them about Keeping America Great during the Great American Race.”
Trump’s appearance marked the first time the presidential limo and motorcade did a lap around the Daytona track. As New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman wrote on Twitter, “[Trump is] using the official apparatus of government for what appears to be a political event.”