DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. (The Charlotte Observer) - Walk around the lawns at Daytona International Speedway in the days leading up to the Daytona 500, and you might as well be at a Donald Trump rally. Rows of trailers boast “Keep America Great” flags, their drivers don “MAGA” hats and one fan, Debi Ringhaver, even brought a life-size mannequin of the President to greet fans outside her trailer.
Ringhaver said she’s got a whole barn full of similar Trump mannequins.
“This area, I think we’re kind of common sense people,” Ringhaver said. “There is nothing fancy about the people in Daytona, and they like somebody that’s working for them.”
Race fans didn’t need to visit the life-size doll to see Trump on Sunday afternoon. Air Force One landed at Daytona Beach around 1 p.m. as the President attended the Daytona 500 to serve as grand marshal for the event. He’s the first sitting president to hold the honor.
“Daytona International Speedway has been privileged to have hosted several sitting Presidents of the United States over our history,” Daytona International Speedway president Chip While said in a statement Thursday. “We’re honored that the President of the United States has chosen to experience the pageantry and excitement of ‘The Great American Race’ by attending Sunday’s 62nd annual DAYTONA 500.”
George W. Bush attended the event in 2004. Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush attended summer races at the speedway, in 1984 and 1992, respectively, while in office. Trump’s attendance is timed with his 2020 presidential campaign; And as Democrats splinter following the Iowa caucuses, Trump will find assured support at the Florida-based NASCAR race.
“Best president ever,” said John Hummel, 58, who has been attending races with a group of friends for the past couple years. Hummel sat at a makeshift bar outside the group’s shared trailer.
Sunday’s NASCAR race feels like such a red state, it’s hard to find a single Democrat in the sea of fans. Every fan in attendance surveyed by the Observer said they are voting for Trump in the next election.
“I’m excited for him to be here,” Hummel said. “It should be a good time.”
Trump played to his Florida audience on the FOX telecast, talking about how much he loves the state. His presidential motorcade led field with a pace lap around the track after Trump gave the command to “start your engines.”
Even drivers are embracing Trump’s campaign. The “Trump 2020” logo is painted on the side of one car driven by veteran driver Joe Nemechek. Nemechek drove the No. 74 car for Mike Harmon Racing in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race. The car is sponsored by the Patriots PAC of America. After finishing in 15th place, Nemechek hopped out and took pictures with eager fans surrounding his car.
“Oh my gosh, it’s incredible,” Nemechek said about the popularity of the paint scheme. “It’s bigger than Dale Jr. I can tell you that.”
Nemechek said he is voting for Trump and is a big supporter.
“I think he’s done a great job,” Nemechek said. “And it’s an honor for me to represent him and Mike Pence in their re-election campaign.”