Trump logo to be on track at Daytona races
DAYTONA BEACH — Even before President Donald Trump arrives at the Daytona 500 on Sunday, race fans will see his name circling the track Friday night and Saturday.
During Friday night’s NextEra Energy 250, Port Orange driver Tim Viens will be behind the wheel of a white, No. 3 Chevy Silverado with a Trump 2020 logo.
Then veteran NASCAR driver Joe Nemechek will run the 74 car with the same pro-Trump message in the Xfinity Series race Saturday. Nemechek drives for Mike Harmon Racing.
“I support the president. I support him and I’m gonna continue to support him,” Viens said, adding that the other benefit to landing the sponsorship is getting an opportunity to drive.
While it‘s widely assumed the NASCAR audience is more pro-Trump than the general public, at least one national poll appeared to confirm this in 2018. A Zogby Poll taken in January 2018 showed NASCAR fans gave the president a 64% approval rating, as opposed to 46% of the American public.
So barring any last-minute change, no one will be high-banking a Bernie, Biden or Buttigieg car.
Viens said the idea to seek a Trump-backing sponsor was hatched a few months ago at a South Nova Road watering hole.
“I was sitting with a buddy at South Turn, having wings and a beer, and we were talking about different ideas,” he said. “He goes: “The president is running for office. How cool would it be to put Trump on the car?’ I said that would be a cool idea and started making some phone calls.”
Patriots PAC of America paid Mike Harmon Racing $25,000 on Feb. 5, according to an FEC filing.
The document was signed by the PAC’s treasurer, Dan Backer, an Alexandria, Virginia-based attorney who supports Republican causes. He filed papers on behalf of the PAC on Jan. 31, three weeks after it appears to have been initially established by Henry J. Foley of Daytona Beach.
Foley, a Delta pilot, is also listed as the managing partner of Alpha 1 Management LLC in public records.
FEC records do not yet show who has donated to the PAC.
By law, the PAC is not allowed to coordinate with the Trump campaign.
Viens suggested the sponsorship will involve more than the $25,000, but didn’t commit the impeachable offense of disclosing more.
“I think that was the down payment,” he said.
Viens was able to land the backing, which was enough for both the NextEra Energy and Xfinity races, but he didn’t have a ride in the Saturday race, so he turned to Harmon, an owner who’s worked with Viens in the past.
Harmon was all for slapping Trump’s name on his car.
“I feel like he’s been good for the country,” Harmon said by phone. “He doesn’t have to be doing what he’s doing. He could be doing anything he wanted to do. He’s wealthy.”
Harmon said Trump fits the NASCAR culture.
“Most race fans are blue-collar people, especially the dedicated, passionate ones. I kind of think that’s who supports Trump the most,” he said. “The guy’s got backbone. To be in NASCAR, you gotta have backbone.”
This isn’t the first time Harmon has seen a political candidate advertised on a race car.
In 2003, Elizabeth Dole, a candidate for U.S. Senate, advertised on a Busch Series car at North Carolina Speedway, and in 2010, Rick Perry did the same for his re-election campaign as Texas governor.
Ahead of the 2016 election, at least three NASCAR drivers drove Trump vehicles: Korbin Forrester at Eldora Speedway in Ohio, Reed Sorenson at the Texas Motor Speedway and Austin Wayne Self at Talladaga Superspeedway.
Also that year, drivers Bill and Chase Elliott, Ryan Newman and David Ragan, as well as former Chairman Brian France, joined Trump on stage at a rally in Valdosta, Georgia.
But some in the sport have pushed back on all-out support for the unconventional president. In 2015, Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis — a major NASCAR sponsor — pushed for a banquet to be moved from Trump National Doral in Miami to a different venue. In 2017, he said he was “horrified” by the Trump presidency.
Earlier this week, Viens — walking around outside the Motorsports Hall of Fame outside of the Speedway oval — wore his Trump-Pence jumpsuit and was approached several times by friendly fans. He said he hasn’t really experienced any negative reaction, but expects he will when he checks his phone.
“Anything on social media, you're gonna have people who like it or dislike it,” Viens said. “They’re gonna express their opinions. That’s what’s great about America.”