President Trump is set to rev up NASCAR’s Daytona 500 on Sunday with a lap around the famed oval track in the armored presidential limo, dubbed “The Beast,” a first for any U.S. president, Fox News has confirmed.
Trump and first lady Melania Trump will make their historic trip in the 22,000-pound vehicle around Florida’s Daytona International Speedway ahead of the race, Fox News chief White House correspondent John Roberts reported.
Trump, who was already tapped to be the second-ever sitting president to act as grand marshal in the Great American Race, will be the first president, sitting or former, to deliver the iconic “start your engines” command to the 43 drivers in the competition.
The honor follows in the footsteps of former President Ronald Reagan, who in 1984 became the first sitting president to attend a NASCAR race at the speedway when he started the Firecracker 400, giving the command, “Gentlemen, start your engines!” from aboard Air Force One.
President Ronald Reagan congratulates stock car driver Richard Petty, who won the Firecracker 400 race at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., in 1984. (AP Photo/Ira Schwarz, File)
It was at that race that Richard Petty captured his historic 200th victory. Reagan watched until the end, even doing a few laps of radio play-by-play during the race before he congratulated Petty and ate chicken with drivers, crew members, NASCAR employees and their families in the garage area.
The only other sitting president to attend the 500 race as grand marshal was President George W. Bush in 2004, the year Dale Earnhardt Jr. won his first 500. Earnhardt was grand marshal in 2018 and will be on the stand this Sunday to wave the green flag as honorary starter.
President George W. Bush greeted drivers in the pit at Daytona 500 NASCAR race in Daytona Beach, Fla., in 2004. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
Former President George H.W. Bush also visited the track at Daytona, but not during the 500 race.
Democrat Bill Clinton attended a NASCAR race as a presidential candidate in September 1992, but many fans at the Southern 500 in Darlington, S.C., booed and heckled him over the question of his lack of Vietnam-era military service that stalked his campaign.
President Barack Obama’s initial presidential campaign was presented with the opportunity to sponsor a car in a NASCAR race, but eventually declined that chance. However, Obama routinely invited the winners of the NASCAR Cup Series championship to the White House, a tradition Trump has continued.
Trump, who was endorsed in 2016 by former NASCAR CEO Brian France Jr., has hosted series champions Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. at The White House and gave NASCAR team owner Roger Penske the Presidential Medal of Freedom last year.
The Daytona 500 is set to start at 2:30 p.m. ET on the FOX broadcast channel. Drivers will battle through 200 laps around the speedway in the 500-mile stock car race for a chance to lift the champion’s trophy on Victory Lane.
About 100,000 people are expected to attend this year’s race and millions more will watch on television. About 9 million people took in last year’s race on television.
Fox News’ John Roberts and Gary Gastelu and The Associated Press contributed to this report.