Saturday, July 01, 2006

VEEP's Grand Entrance at the NASCAR Pepsi 500 [J. Mark English]

Nedra Pickler, My Way --

The stock cars weren't the only things buzzing the track at Daytona Saturday - Vice President Dick Cheney made his grand entrance when Air Force II flew in low over the crowd gathering for the start of the NASCAR race.
Cheney's appearance at the Pepsi 400 was another chance this year for Americans to get a glimpse of the extraordinarily powerful vice president who normally operates behind the scenes. From the baseball diamond to the speedway oval, Cheney is turning up at lots of high-profile venues as part of an all-hands-on-deck effort at the White House to improve the GOP's standing going into the November election...
...He then boarded his plane for the 75-mile trip north to Daytona Beach, shedding his coat and tie en route to fit in better at the race. The plane went over the track at 1,000 feet for a view of stands that were just beginning to fill up 2 1/2 hours before race start.
Upon arrival, Cheney's motorcade went around the track at a relative crawl of 60 mph, passing fans on the infield who waved flags for their favorite drivers. Then Cheney attended the pre-race meeting, where he got a standing ovation from the drivers and their crews and his excited staff took pictures with Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Just as the race was about to start, Cheney took to the stage in front of a large U.S. flag and the drivers and delivered a patriotic message to more than 100,000 fans.
"On Independence Day weekend, we're reminded how fortunate we are to live in freedom and to call this nation our home," Cheney said to loud cheers.
The events add to the list of memorable experiences for Cheney this year, including:
_Throwing out the first pitch at the Washington Nationals home opener.
...The no-touching rule given to the rest of Cheney's entourage clearly did not apply to him. He rapped one of the tires with his fist; no one objected.
More than 20 years ago, when Cheney was a congressman from Wyoming, he was at a shuttle launch. But the NASCAR race Saturday was a first for him.
The Pepsi 400 has become a popular event for national leaders. President Reagan was the first commander in chief to attend a race when he went in 1984. Both President Bush and his father have been, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld attended last year.