News & Media

First lady makes visit to Homestead track

November 20, 2011, David Caraviello,

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- It was a scene common to anywhere in NASCAR, with stacks of tires and cars arrayed in a garage bay. That is, until the first lady of the United States took a peek under the hood.

Michelle Obama visited Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday as part of an effort to recognize the sacrifice of military families. Along with Jill Biden, wife of the vice president, Obama addressed the drivers' meeting, was shown around by championship leader Carl Edwards, met military families at a pre-race lunch in the Nationwide Series garage, and delivered the command to start engines prior to the season-ending Sprint Cup event.

"For both Jill and I, this is our first NASCAR race. And this is a huge race. It's a big deal."


Her main purpose was to recognize military families as part of the Joining Forces Initiative, for which NASCAR developed a public service announcement that features Edwards and several other drivers. Obama and Biden spoke to a group of military members and their families, and then shook hands and signed autographs for those in attendance.

"For both Jill and I, this is our first NASCAR race. And this is a huge race," Obama said. "It's a big deal. The fact that NASCAR is taking the time ... during what is probably the most tense time of their whole race season, that they're putting the focus on all of you, is just what we want you to know."

Obama and Biden were accompanied during the lunch by NASCAR executives such as chairman Brian France, president Mike Helton, and managing director of public affairs Marcus Jadotte. Edwards, who entered the day with a three-point lead on Tony Stewart for the Sprint Cup title, showed the first lady around his No. 99 car, even popping the hood, and then introduced Obama and Biden to the assembly of military members and their families.

"I know firsthand through some of my friends and family members who have served how difficult it is for the families while people are overseas," Edwards said. "I speak for NASCAR and everyone here at this event -- we support you guys 100 percent. We know you're sacrificing for our freedom, and we know that your families are sacrificing just as much."

Visits to a NASCAR event by members of the presidential family are not uncommon -- Ronald Reagan famously was on hand for Richard Petty's 200th career victory at Daytona International Speedway in 1984, and both George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush have attended the Daytona 500. NASCAR has also been honored at the White House several times in recent years. But the combination of the first lady and the sport's season-ending finale created a unique chapter in the sport.

Obama and Biden also visited the drivers' meeting, where the first lady told the competitors to be safe, and also sounded the drumbeat of her Joining Forces mission. "We just wanted to stop by, because NASCAR has been so supportive, not just today but everyday, of our military families," she said. "... Just as you all know, you couldn't be doing what you're doing without your families, these military families are stepping up in ways that are amazing. Days like this remind them that they do have a country that cares and appreciates what they do."

Security for the first lady's visit was very tight, complete with sniffer dogs and Secret Service agents around almost every corner, and metal detectors at the entrance to the track's media center, which contains the auditorium where the drivers' meeting was held. Even drivers were checked out with metal-detecting wands, although they were able to enter through a side entrance. Track president Matthew Becherer thanked all the competitors for tolerating the increased security.

"It's an honor and a privilege," he said, "for us as a facility and an industry to host the first lady."