Mitt Romney's visit to Daytona 500 was shameless politics invading NASCAR
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, right, walks with driver Brian Vickers, left, Sunday at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla.. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
Above right, crew members work on the car of driver Tony Raines that is sponsored by Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum during practice for the Daytona 500 Saturday (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
To quote Sammy Kershaw, we’re not supposed to talk about “politics, religion and her”
But I’m gonna break that first rule here, and talk about the politics surrounding the Daytona 500.
First, Rick Santorum has decided to get his name out further by having “Rick Santorum for President” sponsoring the #26 car of Tony Raines, which raced its way into the Daytona 500 via the Duels.
And while I definitely don’t agree with Santorum’s politics on many levels (specifically, I want my religion and my politics separate, and he likes to jumble them up: going against the very basic beliefs of the Founding Fathers), sponsoring a car like he did is the best way to go about involving politics in the NASCAR realm. Other candidates have put their name on a car before (I vaguely remember Brad Keselowski with a Heath Shuler for Congress car back in his early days), and Santorum is buying sponsorship just like any other brand or company would. I have no issues with that approach, regardless of my opinions of him as a candidate.
What’s funny to me, though, is what happened after the Santorum car was announced. Mitt Romney ended up taking a last-minute trip to Daytona to make an appearance on what he thought would be the day of the race.
Here’s how I envision the meeting that led to Romney visiting Daytona:
Adviser: Sir, we have a development. Santorum is sponsoring a car in the Daytona 500, which will get him a lot of exposure to that crowd.
Mitt Romney: Damn, why didn’t we think of that?
Adviser: Sorry, sir. But it’s too late for us to do that now. The race is Sunday.
Mitt Romney: Well, I guess I have to go down there on the day of the race.
Adviser: But sir, you already have a lot of plans today with the Michigan primary coming Tuesday.
Mitt Romney: Hey, we’ll have to squeeze it in. I have to have that NASCAR vote over Satorum!
Adviser: Sure thing, sir. We’ll book the trip ASAP.
Bottom line: I don’t like politicians using appearances at the racetrack to boost their campaigns, and it just makes Romney look phony. If Santorum hadn’t sponsored the car, no way the Romney trip happens.
Campaigns are full of phony sound bites. Here are the ones that came out of Daytona:
"NASCAR and the Daytona 500 are about as American as you can get – and it's great to have my campaign represented by one of these incredible machines," Santorum said. "The race weekend is a wonderful tradition that we're excited to be a part of as we spread our message. I like how Tony Raines turned some heads last weekend with his qualifying run and we'd like to keep turning heads, too. I think we're both looking for a win in the end."
Romney spent a few hours at the track Sunday morning, was introduced at the drivers' meeting and had some words to say to the drivers – which sounded equally as canned as Santorum’s quotes.
"This combines a couple of things I like best, cars and sports," Romney told the group. "I appreciate the spirit of the men and women that are driving today. This is a chance to really look at some of the determination and great qualities of the human spirit. This is quintessentially American. I love what you're doing, happy to be here today, wish you all the very best and God bless this great nation of ours."
He also made similar remarks to the fans, who were no doubt mostly annoyed by the campaign making its way to the racetrack.
This is just another side effect of this political season, and it’s kind of annoying to me that it has to infiltrate my sport.
I recognize that Romney has a right to say what he wants where he wants, but I also have a right to say what I want. And I say his appearance at Daytona was shameless politics. Santorum did it the right way with his sponsorship; Mitt did it the wrong way with his appearance.
That’s all I have to say on the matter.
Lots of Truck rookies
Back to racing,
While there are basically no Cup rookies this year (I believe Timmy Hill may win it by default even if he doesn’t do anything of note), that’s not the case in the truck series – where a ton of new drivers are battling for the ROTY title.
ARCA champ Ty Dillion, 2012 K&N Pro Series East champion Max Gresham, Pro Series standout Paulie Harraka, Dakoda Armstrong, Cale Gale, Ward’s son Jeb Burton, Ross Chastain, Dusty Davis, Daytona winner John King and Bryan Silas are among the contenders. Should be a tight battle, but I’m guessing Dillon wins it by a good margin, considering he’s in the same great equipment his brother did so well in last year.
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