Who needs Joe Six-pack when you've got King Richard?
On Saturday, as more than 100,000 NASCAR fans gathered at Lowe's Motor Speedway for the Bank of America 500, legendary racer Richard Petty announced his endorsement of Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain.
“What we need right now in these uncertain times is a steady hand on the wheel, a leader we can trust to put country first, ahead of politics,” Petty said in a prepared statement.
The endorsement was not surprising. It came from a longtime party stalwart and onetime Republican candidate for secretary of state.
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But it did mark a busy day for the GOP. Faced with what polls show is an uphill battle for the White House, party officials took advantage of the festivities surrounding Saturday's race to shore up support for the party.
By the time the engines roared to life inside the speedway, former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer, country music star Cowboy Troy and Cindy McCain had all made appearances supporting the Republican nominee.
Many race fans shared similar political views.
“NASCAR fans represent the best of America,” said Chris McClure, executive director of the N.C. Republican Party. “They know what a dollar means and who has their best interest at heart.”
McClure and crew operated out of a Victory 2008 bus, one of eight Straight Talk Expresses rolling around the country. This one had been in Virginia the day before.
It was brought down for the race and wedged into a space near a NASCAR racecar simulator and the Old Spice karaoke stand.
Volunteers handed out stickers and pamphlets and talked about McCain. Terry Harrell, a salesman from Greensboro, picked up a sticker Saturday.
He proudly placed it beside an “88” sticker for Dale Earnhardt Jr. on a cooler he was pulling behind him in a wagon.
“I just like him,” Harrell said, of McCain. “I believe him. I'm not sure I believe Obama.”
Not everyone at the race was a McCain supporter. A few hundred yards from the GOP bus was a stand for “Race for Change,” an issues-based organization that doesn't officially support Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, though it pretty much supports everything Obama supports.
Volunteers for the organization also handed out material. And by and large, they received a warm reception.
Dena Parton of Morganton was at the race with her fiancé Joey Laney. She stopped by Race for Change and picked up some information.
“I'm for Obama,” she said. “I think this idea that NASCAR is Republican is just a stereotype. That might be the way it used to be, but times change.”
When asked if he thought the crowd was a Republican crowd, Race for Change volunteer Jeff Jacobs said no.
“Why would Cindy McCain be here, if the Republicans thought they had these votes sewn up?” he said.
Cindy McCain was the honorary race director Saturday. Dressed in jeans and a black shirt, she gave interviews, shook hands and talked racing.
Mostly though, she stumped for her husband. And on Saturday, her tone was less critical of Obama than it was earlier in the week.
“North Carolina is extremely important in this race,” she said. “I want to make sure people know there is a clear difference between the candidates.”
Cindy McCain had called Obama's campaign “the dirtiest campaign in American history.”
On Saturday she reiterated her frustration with what she feels have been negative ads by Obama, but did say, “Senator Obama is a good man.”
The change seemed to match a change in tone by her husband.
On Friday John McCain was booed during a rally in Minneapolis, after he defended Obama as “a decent family man” and said he simply had disagreements with him on fundamental issues.