DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Monday is officially Presidents Day, but to the drivers, crews, spectators and officials at the 62nd Daytona 500, it was actually Sunday.
President Donald J. Trump and First Lady Melania received a rousing welcome when he arrived at Daytona Int’l Speedway before Sunday’s rain-interrupted Daytona 500.
Air Force One flew over the speedway before landing at nearby Daytona Int’l Airport, just behind the backstretch. The Presidential motorcade entered the facility through the backstretch gate and arrived at the Daytona 500 Club behind victory lane.
Inside, President Trump met NASCAR Cup Series drivers Clint Bowyer, Bubba Wallace, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola, Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott, former Cup Series champion and two-time Daytona 500 winner Bill Elliott and young gun Hallie Deegan.
Daytona Int’l Speedway President Chip Wile introduced the President to the crowd. The President spoke from a special lectern with the Presidential Seal in victory lane.
“My fellow race fans, there is not greater thrill than to join you at the World Center of Racing for the 62nd Daytona 500,” Trump said. “So exciting.
“The Daytona 500 is a legendary display of roaring engines, soaring spirts of American skill, speed and power that we have 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 the most is God, family and country.”
Trump also spoke of military honorees who were at Sunday’s race.
“Joining us today are Gold-Star Families whose loved ones have made the supreme sacrifice to defend our freedom and our flag,” the President said. “To Edgar and Jennifer Bill, to George Lutz and to Gold Star Families throughout our land, your fallen warriors will live in our heart forever.
“We’re also grateful to be joined by Staff Sergeant David Bellavia, who I was privileged last year to be able to award the Congressional Medal of Honor.
“This afternoon we congratulate all of the new enlistees in the United States armed forces, and there are plenty and they love our country. A few minutes ago, they took a solemn oath to put their lives on the line for our country.
“To each of them and every service member and veteran today, as Commander in Chief of the greatest fighting force on the planet, I want to thank you for your service.”
Fans gave the President and First Lady rousing and respectful cheers. The President also spoke in a very presidential tone without any political rancor.
“Now, we approach the moment you have all been waiting for,” Trump 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. For 500 heart-pounding miles, these fierce competitors will chase the checkered flag, fight for the Harley J. Earl Trophy and make their play for pure American glory.
“That’s what it is – pure American Glory.
“As we wait for the green flag, we give thanks to this beloved country for the heroes that keep us safe and the for the God who made us free. To all of the drivers and pit crews here today, good luck and may the best team win.”
Trump was then taken by the Presidential limo to pit lane. He exited with the First Lady and stood at attention facing the grandstands. Later, he met with a group of NASCAR’s top team owners including Joe Gibbs, Richard Petty, Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick, Roger Penske and his wife Kathy, among others.
Trump gave the command for the field to start engines, just before the United States Air Force Thunderbirds flew overheard in a perfectly timed maneuver.
Although Trump was the fourth United States President to attend a race at Daytona International Speedway, and the second President to attend the Daytona 500, he became the first in two unique categories.
He was asked by NASCAR officials to pace the field for the start of the race.
“Mr. President and first lady, will you please do us the honor of leading the field for the Daytona 500,“ came the request.
The Presidential limo, known as ‘The Beast,’ took the field on a full pace lap before pulling off. Trump then requested a chance to speak on NASCAR’s radio channel to all the competitors, wishing them all good luck and safety in Sunday’s race.
But after 20 laps, rain began to fall bringing out the red flag. A second rain showed brought postponement with the race resuming Monday at 4:05 p.m. Eastern Time.
This year’s Daytona 500 started with a Presidential visit and will conclude on President’s Day.