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President Bush to attend Daytona 500

2/14/2004

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Catha Maultsby and company lined up
two couches, a love seat and a reclining chair under their big blue
tent and stared out at the raindrops pelting away at the fire
they'd built in the grass.

"Didn't have much problem getting all this in here," Maultsby
said.

Such was life in the infield on a rain-soaked Saturday, the day
before the Daytona 500. Even under intense security measures being
brought about by the pending arrival of President Bush, fans are
finding a workable setup, especially if they give themselves plenty
of time.

Of course, that's not to say it's easy protecting the leader of
the free world in a 200,000-person venue full of rowdy racing fans.

Bush will take part in the pre-race festivities at the Daytona
500 on Sunday. As has been the case since the Sept. 11 terrorist
attacks, security for one of the nation's most highly attended
sporting events will be intense, but extra measures are being taken
for the president.

Track spokesman David Talley said every one of the estimated
200,000 fans should arrive as early as possible -- gates open at 8
a.m. for the 1:30 p.m. race -- and expect to have their coolers and
backpacks searched. Only small backpacks and coolers -- with about
enough room to carry a six-pack of beer -- will be allowed and fans
can bring one clear, plastic bag. They'll also have to pass through
metal detectors.

Police in uniform and in plain clothes will be stationed all
over the track. Talley said manpower numbers were not being
released.

Although the infield where Maultsby stays is normally packed
well before Sunday rolls around -- there's a 10-day buildup to the
actual Daytona 500 -- those trying to drive in Sunday will have
their cars and trunks searched.

"They'll pull a lot more people in here and a lot faster than
any airport," said race fan Jeff Miller, who was impressed with
how quickly he cleared security earlier in the week.

Track officials have made repeated announcements this week,
urging fans in the stands and the infield not to bring anything
that would delay them at an airport -- pocket knives, scissors, guns
and the like.

As is customary when a president comes to town, flight
restrictions will be in effect within 30 miles of the track for
most of the day. A tighter 10-mile restriction that shuts out all
but commercial airlines from landing at the nearby airport take
effect just prior to Bush's visit.

This will be the first presidential visit to the track since
1992, when Bush's father came for the race. George W. Bush has been
here before, in 1992, when he was governor of Texas and running for
president. The first presidential visit was in 1984, when Ronald
Reagan attended the Firecracker 400 in July, and Richard Petty won
his 200th race.

"He views it as a way to really honor some true champions,"
said Bush's press secretary, Scott McClellan, "both for what they
do on the track and what they do off the track."

This is a good photo op and something of a campaign stop for
Bush. Much has been made of politicians trying to get in touch with
"NASCAR dads," a play on the "soccer moms" who have been
considered important in previous presidential elections. Bush's
visit coincides with a voter registration drive being put on at the
track by the Republican National Committee.

Maultsby said she's excited the president will be at the track,
but doesn't really expect to see him in her part of the infield.

"I don't know if he's coming over here to Redneck City," she
said. "He's got the Redneck vototo op and something of a campaign stop for
Bush. Much has been made of politicians trying to get in touch with
"NASCAR dads," a play on the "soccer moms" who have been
considered important in previous presidential elections. Bush's
visit coincides with a voter registration drive being put on at the
track by the Republican National Committee.

Maultsby said she's excited the president will be at the track,
but doesn't really expect to see him in her part of the infield.

"I don't know if he's coming over here to Redneck City," she
said. "He's got the Redneck vote already, so I don't think he'll
be coming around."