For the first time since 2004, the President of the United States has attended a NASCAR event. President Donald Trump landed at Daytona Beach International Airport, then drove his motorcade on the racetrack before addressing the crowd and giving the command to start engines for the 62nd annual Daytona 500.
Trump’s Air Force One brought shadows over 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway as it descended to land just across the street.
Air Force One. pic.twitter.com/4Raiqbnqwg
— Aaron Bearden (@aaronbearden93) February 16, 2020
After landing, Trump and his motorcade entered the racetrack between turns 1 and 2, eventually doing a lap around Daytona’s high banks. Trump then emerged on stage around 2:30 p.m. ET with wife Melania to address the crowd with a short speech.
“NASCAR fans never forget,” Trump said. “That no matter who wins the race, what matters most is God, family and country.”
Trump then introduced Gold Star Families that were in attendance before turning his attention to the race itself.
“Soon, the Great American Race will begin,” Trump said. “For 500 heart-stopping miles, these competitors will chase the checkered flag, fight for the Harley J. Earl trophy and fight for pure American glory. Good luck, and may the best team win.”
— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) February 16, 2020
Later, Trump was interviewed by FOX Sports’ Jamie Little where he explained what he loved about the sport, claiming it was his fifth time attending the Great American Race.
“It’s really the bravery of these people,” he said before joking around. “It takes great courage, the speed, the technology…. I think I’m going to hop into one of these cars and get into this race, if possible.”
From there, pre-race ceremonies resumed, concluding with Trump giving the traditional racing command to start engines.
Paired with a second flyover of the @AFThunderbirds.
— Tom Bowles From Frontstretch.com (@NASCARBowles) February 16, 2020
Trump then led the field in his limousine, nicknamed the Beast before exiting the track shortly before the green flag in his motorcade.
The sport gave the President a warm welcome although extra security resulted in long lines to get into the infield and other track areas along the midway. The FanZone still filled up despite waits of up to two hours. Several fans in the crowd wore special Trump/Pence 2020 shirts and MAGA hats, also writing supportive messages to the President on Daytona’s asphalt.
With necessary-but-epic security for President Trump's visit, folks going into the Daytona infield fanzone have been facing two-hour lines today.
— Adam Stern (@A_S12) February 16, 2020
NASCAR rising star Hailee Deegan, meanwhile looked to snag an autograph from Trump. After going back and forth with Donald Trump Jr. on Twitter, she was never shown meeting the President himself but wound up with her wish fulfilled by the drop of the green flag.
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) February 16, 2020
Trump will return to Washington, D.C. by 5:40 p.m. ET. It’s the first time since George W. Bush in 2004 Daytona 500 a U.S. President attended a NASCAR event.