By all accounts, he took it by storm. The Associated Press is uncharacteristically positive:
President Bush throttled up his re-election campaign Sunday by donning a racing jacket and opening the Daytona 500, NASCAR’s most prestigious event in a sport that draws a prized voter profile. With his wife, Laura, trailing him, Bush walked the pit, mingling with drivers, shaking hands with fans.
The president got a much warmer reception than Bill Clinton did when he visited a NASCAR race as a candidate in September 1992, when the question of his lack of Vietnam-era military service was dogging Clinton.
At the Southern 500 race in Darlington, S.C., Clinton was booed and heckled by fans, many shouting “draft dodger!” at him. As Bush strode through pit row, he received rock-star treatment. An extravaganza unfolded around him.
A man with a rocket strapped to his back sailed into the speedway, followed, a short time later, by a bald eagle that landed on its trainer’s arm. Fireworks erupted, cheerleaders danced, Leann Rimes sang “R-O-C-K in the USA.”
Here is President Bush with some of the drivers:
Bush made an interesting response when asked, in an interview, whether he would like to be driving one of the cars: “I flew fighters when I was in the Guard, and I like speed. It would’ve been fun to drive up on these banks. … I’d like to, but I’m afraid the agents wouldn’t let me.”
There is a school of thought that holds that the “controversy” over Bush’s National Guard service will have the unintended effect of informing people that Bush once flew fighter jets–a fact that relatively few voters know. Bush’s raising of his Guard service in a softball interview supports that theory.
As a general rule, any venue where they play country music is a good one for the President, and for Republicans generally. Here is Leann Rimes, waiting to perform:
I can’t resist noting one of my favorite moments in music marketing. Rimes, a vocal prodigy, became famous when she had a hit record at age 14. Her second CD consisted of songs that she had recorded previously, but which hadn’t been released. The CD was given the tongue-in-cheek title “Leann Rimes: The Early Years.”
UPDATE: The AP may have decided that their story wasn’t sufficiently anti-Bush; a more recent version adds the observation, near the beginning of the article, that “The crowd in the stands was almost exclusively white and heavily male,” thus, apparently, explaining the warm reception the President received.