WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump will court NASCAR fans as he takes in the Daytona 500 on Sunday.
Trump will be the second sitting president to attend the Daytona 500, after George W. Bush in 2004. Like Trump, he also attended the race during a presidential election year. Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush also visited the track at Daytona but during races other than the 500.
This year, Trump will serve as grand marshal and give the command for drivers to start their engines.
Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman under George W. Bush, said “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.”
Trump’s reelection campaign will run a TV ad during the Fox broadcast of the race and fly an aerial banner near the speedway.
In 2016 Brian France, then NASCAR’s chairman and chief executive, endorsed Trump in the presidential race.
In 1984, Reagan became the first sitting president to attend a NASCAR race. That July, he started the Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway, where he gave the command, “Gentlemen, start your engines!” from aboard Air Force One. Later, the plane landed at Daytona International Airport behind the speedway in full view of the fans. It was at that race that Richard Petty captured his historic 200th victory.
Reagan stuck around until the end and even did a few laps of radio play-by-play during the race, congratulated Petty and then ate chicken in the garage area.
President Obama’s initial presidential campaign was presented with the opportunity to sponsor a car in a NASCAR race, but declined.
However, Obama routinely invited the winners of the NASCAR Cup Series championship to the White House, a tradition Trump has continued.
About 100,000 people are 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.