February 16, 2004

Bush opens NASCAR race - - http://www.smh.com.au:

"President George W Bush throttled up his re-election campaign by donning a racing jacket and opening the Daytona 500, NASCAR's most prestigious event in a sport that draws a prized voter profile.

'Gentlemen, start your engines!' Bush said, squinting up from pit road to the grandstands, where some 180,000 fans roared. They were promptly drowned out by the scream of stock car engines roaring to life."

The race provided an irresistible opportunity for Bush to woo tens of millions of NASCAR fans - the sport claims a fan base of 75 million - watching the televised event eight and a half months before the election.

The crowd in the stands was almost exclusively white and heavily male. The phrase "NASCAR dads" has become political shorthand for voters who like Bush but who could be persuaded to vote Democratic if the issues and candidates were right.

It was also a plum chance to make a 19th visit to Florida, the state that decided the 2000 election.

The president got a much warmer reception than Bill Clinton did when he visited a NASCAR race as a candidate in September 1992, when the question of his lack of Vietnam-era military service was dogging the Democratic candidate.

At the Southern 500 race in Darlington, South Carolina, Clinton was booed and heckled by fans, many shouting "draft dodger!" at him.

As Bush strode through pit row, he received rock-star treatment. An extravaganza unfolded around him.


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