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President Trump giving election-year embrace to NASCAR and its fans

Fans watch from the grandstands as Air Force One, carrying President Donald Trump, prepares to land at Daytona International Airport before the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

He's the second president ever to attend the Daytona 500 and has been given the honor of commanding drivers to start their engines.

Posted: Feb 16, 2020 2:20 PM

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — 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.’’

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.

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