Trump arrives at Daytona 500, sets off raucous celebration

President Donald Trump made a dramatic entrance at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday, setting off a raucous celebration at the famed NASCAR track.

Thousands cheered as Air Force One performed a flyover and landed at Daytona International Airport a few hundred yards behind the track. Trump’s motorcade arrived a few minutes later, prompting another loud ovation. Both entrances were broadcast on giant video boards around the superspeedway.

At least a dozen drivers were escorted from the pre-race meeting to a private introduction with Trump.

“I got to meet the president! How cool is that?” driver Aric Almirola said.

Trump is the grand marshal for the Daytona 500, meaning he will give the command for drivers to start their engines. He is then expected to take a lap around the track in his limousine at the front of the 40-car field.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is on the pole for “The Great American Race.” He hopes to be at the front of the pack when the president and Air Force One departs.

Photos of Air Force One and President George W. Bush departing outside the famed track in 2004, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. leading, are regarded among the most iconic in NASCAR history.

“That’s one of those things that everybody remembers,” Stenhouse said. “It’s such a cool picture to have, even if you are not leading. It is going to be special for all of us involved.”

The president’s visit was widely welcomed by NASCAR fans. Trump 2020 flags flooded the infield, and some fans wore them as capes in the garage area.

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Trump’s presence also created huge lines at entrances, with many fans complaining while waiting hours to get through security.

Trump giving election-year embrace to NASCAR and its fans

President Donald Trump gave an election-year embrace to NASCAR and its fans Sunday when he became the second president ever to attend the Daytona 500. He said the racers and their teams were competing “for pure American glory.”

In remarks to the crowd shortly before the race was to begin, the president said, “Soon the cars will take to the track for the start, tires will screech, rubber will burn, fans will scream and the Great American Race will begin.”

Given the honor of commanding drivers to start their engines, Trump made a grand entrance before the start of the race. He gave thousands of fans a flyover of Air Force One and then rode onto the track in the presidential motorcade as the audience roared with delight. The motorcade took roughly a quarter lap before pulling aside in an infield staging area.

President George W. Bush also appeared at the race during his reelection year.

“For 500 heart pounding miles these fierce competitors will chase the checkered flag … and make their play for pure American glory, and that’s what it is, pure American glory,’’ Trump said.

He said the Daytona 500 was “a legendary display of roaring engines, soaring spirits and the American skill, speed and power that we’ve been hearing about for so many years. The tens of thousands of patriots here today have come for the fast cars and the world-class motorsports. But NASCAR fans never forget that no matter who wins the race, what matters most is God, family and country.’’

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Trump’s reelection campaign planned to run an ad during the Fox broadcast of the race and fly an aerial banner near the speedway. About 100,000 people were expected to attend this year’s race and millions more will watch on television. About 9 million people took in last year’s race on television.

Trump tweeted Sunday morning: “Getting ready to go to the Daytona 500. Will be GREAT!”

After his scheduled return Sunday evening to Washington, Trump will embark later this coming week on Western state swing that will take him to rallies planned in Phoenix, Las Vegas and Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The trip is another demonstration of Trump’s willingness to campaign not just in conservative strongholds but in states that lean Democratic, particularly Colorado, where Republican Sen. Cory Gardner faces a tough reelection battle. Arizona is expected to be a key swing state in the presidential election with its growing population of Hispanic voters.

Former NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France, who was replaced following his August 2018 arrest on DUI charges, was on Air Force One with the president and first lady. They traveled from West Palm Beach.

Among those who met them at the airport: current NASCAR chairman Jim France and fellow top executives Lesa France Kennedy and Ben Kennedy.