Trump kicks off Daytona 500 in Florida, but rain delays the race
President Donald Trump waves as he walks on the South Lawn of the White House upon his return from Florida to Washington, on 16 February 2020. EFE/EPA/Yuri Gripas / POOL
People examine a 1985 Porsche 962-HR1 during the Heritage exhibition of historic automobiles on Jan. 25, 2020, at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. EFE-EPA/ Alberto Domingo
People examine a 1981 Chevrolet Caprice during the Heritage exhibition of historic automobiles on Jan. 25, 2020, at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. EFE-EPA/ Alberto Domingo
Spanish racecar driver Albert Costa, with GRT Grasser Racing Team, poses on Jan. 25, 2020, at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. EFE-EPA/ Alberto Domingo
Miami, Feb 16 (efe-epa)- President Donald Trump kicked off the Daytona 500 under initially sunny skies at the Daytona International Speedway in Florida on Sunday.
"Daytona International Speedway, we love our country and it's truly an honor to be with all of you at the Great American Race," Trump said, accompanied by first lady Melania Trump, at the start of the 62nd edition of the iconic race.
"Gentlemen, start your engines," said Trump to the friendly and loudly cheering crowd, after which he led the drivers in a pace lap in his black armored limousine.
The oval raceway is one of the most famous in the US - or the world, for that matter - and this year's race is being contested by 40 drivers in their Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota vehicles.
Organizers of the historic race named Trump the "grand marshal" for the first race of the NASCAR season, making him the second US president to attend the Daytona 500.
In 2004, President George W. Bush attended the race and was tasked with delivering the famous words to get the speed contest under way - "Gentlemen, start your engines!"
The Daytona 500 is one of the year's most popular - and most watched on television - sports events.
In delivering remarks lasting about four minutes to the huge crowd at the speedway about 2:30 pm, Trump said: "For 500 heart-pounding miles, these fierce competitors will chase the checkered flag, fight for the Harley J. Earl trophy and make their play for pure American glory. ... And that's what it is. Pure American glory."
The president told the crowd that it doesn't matter who wins, asserting that what is important is "God, family and country."
He also thanked the men and women of the US Armed Forces, which sent six combat aircraft over the raceway in a cacophonous flyover before the scheduled start of the race.
Shortly after the presidential limousine ended its pace lap, it began raining at Daytona and the race was indefinitely delayed, thus throwing a wrench into whatever plans Trump may have had of watching the first few laps.
Race organizers, however, said that tickets for the event had been sold out days ago for this first race of the season, running for 200 laps, or 500 miles (804 km).
Heavy security was in place for the race on Sunday, due to Trump's presence at the event, with fans having to wait up to three hours to get into the oval-shaped raceway and even the drivers having to undergo security checks by the Secret Service.
Daytona Beach, on Florida's Atlantic coast, in recent years has become a world speed mecca - along with Indianapolis, Indiana, where the Indianapolis 500 is held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway - although its legacy as a motor racecourse dates back many decades.
In 1936, the first raceway in Daytona Beach was built - half asphalt-paved and half-sand - and in 1959 that format was changed to the paved Daytona International Speedway.