There was Jimmy Johnson and the Lowes 48 car hanging out on the South Lawn. There was Richard Petty — the man who tried desperately to avoid ending up in a picture with candidate Bill Clinton years ago — gladly hamming it up for the cameras. NASCAR had come to the White House.
And Barack Obama looked comfortable with it. He was joking and at ease — which is the complete opposite of how his predecessor George W. Bush seemed at these events. Obama was cracking all sorts of jokes.
"You know, it is not every day that we have a championship stock car parked out on the South Lawn, Fortunately, we got Jimmie to agree not to do any burnouts or tear up my backyard,” Obama said. “I also suggested to Jimmie that, in exchange for free parking, he should let me take the 48 out for a few laps He said that was fine -- but Secret Service didn't think it was fine.”
Making a play for the NASCAR vote is nothing new — Obama almost sponsored a Sprint Cup car for a few races during the campaign, more a sign of how much money he had than political wisdom.
The thing is, it’s Republicans that own that demographic and the NASCAR vote. Heck, Ronald Regan basically kicked-off his re-election campaign at a July race at Daytona in 1984.
Despite that, Bush always looked uncomfortable at these events. The former governor of a state in the heart of NASCAR country, the down-home guy with the ranch, always across looking like he was wearing an itchy wool suit when he was talking to NASCAR people, both at the White House or on his visit to Daytona.
Obama, on the other hand, looked at ease Wednesday. You get the feeling he was serious about taking the 48 car out for a spin if he could. Obama being a left-leaning, urban minority is not exactly going to be Mr. NASCAR, but he may be the best Democrat friend of the sport since Southerner Jimmy Carter was in the White House, hanging out with his buddy Cale Yarborough.
It’s certainly one more change that Obama has brought to Pennsylvania Avenue.