Trump arrives at Daytona 500, sets off raucous celebration

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Race fans watch from the grandstands as Air Force One circles the Daytona International Speedway as President Donald Trump makes his arrival to attend the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Jim Topper)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — President Donald Trump made a dramatic entrance at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday, setting off a raucous celebration at the famed NASCAR track.

Thousands cheered as Air Force One performed a flyover and landed at Daytona International Airport a few hundred yards behind the track. Trump’s motorcade arrived a few minutes later, prompting another loud ovation. Both entrances were broadcast on giant video boards around the superspeedway.

At least a dozen drivers were escorted from the pre-race meeting to a private introduction with Trump.

“I got to meet the president! How cool is that?” driver Aric Almirola said.

Trump is the grand marshal for the Daytona 500, meaning he will give the command for drivers to start their engines. He is then expected to take a lap around the track in his limousine at the front of the 40-car field.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is on the pole for “The Great American Race.” He hopes to be at the front of the pack when the president and Air Force One departs.

Photos of Air Force One and President George W. Bush departing outside the famed track in 2004, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. leading, are regarded among the most iconic in NASCAR history.

“That’s one of those things that everybody remembers,” Stenhouse said. “It’s such a cool picture to have, even if you are not leading. It is going to be special for all of us involved.”

The president’s visit was widely welcomed by NASCAR fans. Trump 2020 flags flooded the infield, and some fans wore them as capes in the garage area.

Trump’s presence also created huge lines at entrances, with many fans complaining while waiting hours to get through security.

Former NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France, who was replaced following his August 2018 arrest on DUI charges, was on Air Force One with the president and first lady. They traveled from West Palm Beach.

Among those who met them at the airport: current NASCAR chairman Jim France and fellow top executives Lesa France Kennedy and Ben Kennedy.

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