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16 Feb, 2020 21:34

‘Gentlemen, start your engines!’ Trump kicks off Daytona 500 with lap in armored limo (VIDEOS)

‘Gentlemen, start your engines!’ Trump kicks off Daytona 500 with lap in armored limo (VIDEOS)

President Trump opened the NASCAR season in crowd-pleasing style, flying low over the Daytona International Speedway in Air Force One and lapping the oval in his limo, before delivering the iconic “start your engines” command.

Chants of “USA, USA” greeted the president as he flew in low over the Daytona International Speedway on Sunday. 

After a lap of the famous circuit in the presidential limousine, Trump delivered a speech praising the military, God, patriotism, and “the 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 500-mile opening race of the NASCAR season kicked off after Trump instructed the 40 drivers to “start your engines.” In doing so he became the second sitting President to start the ‘Great American Race,’ after George W. Bush in 2004.

Ronald Reagan was the first US president to open a NASCAR race, when he gave the command “Gentlemen, start your engines” from aboard Air Force One at the 1984 Firecracker 400.

Bill Clinton faced a frostier reception when he attended the Southern 500 in Darlington, South Carolina, on the campaign trail in 1992. Unlike his Republican counterparts, Clinton was heckled and booed by fans at the racetrack.

Not everyone was as happy with Trump’s pageantry as the Daytona crowd. New York Times correspondent Maggie Haberman snarked at Trump for “using the official apparatus of government for what appears to be a political event.” NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell described Trump’s appearance as “looking for NASCAR fans to support his re-election bid.”

Trump supporters were amused. “What did you want him to ride in?” conservative activist CJ Pearson tweeted at Haberman, “an Uber?”

In reality, Trump likely needs to do little to win the votes of NASCAR fans. A 2018 poll found that the president’s job approval was higher among race fans than any other demographic surveyed. Putting on a spectacle at the Daytona 500 is more a case of preaching to the choir than winning new supporters.

Still, Trump’s appearance was seen by around 100,000 fans in person and another nine million on television, making it an important stop on the 2020 campaign trail. 

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