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Cheney Revs Up Schedule in Florida

Orlando Sentinel

Playing off the patriotic themes that dominated the Daytona International Speedway this weekend, Vice President Dick Cheney spent his time at the Pepsi 400 praising the military and hailing its ties to NASCAR.

“On Independence Day weekend, we’re reminded how fortunate we are to live in freedom and to call this place home,” Cheney told the 150,000-plus fans before Saturday’s race.

“We’re grateful above all to the men and women who defend us,” he said.

The vice president’s visit to the track is the latest in a series of high-profile public appearances by Cheney, who usually stays out of the limelight.

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Earlier Saturday, he was 75 miles south at Cape Canaveral, where he had hoped to see the space shuttle launch. It was postponed because of weather.

Cheney arrived in Daytona with a roar when Air Force II flew in low over the track as the crowd was gathering. When he got to the speedway, his motorcade took a turn on the track at a modest 65 mph.

A few race fans judged Cheney’s appearance as a shrewd public relations move.

“I don’t think they should mix politics and racing, but he just wants to be associated with the sport,” said Russ Schlenker, 49, of Hernando. “Just trying to get the ‘NASCAR dad’ vote.”

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In his public statements, Cheney emphasized the heroism of the armed forces but didn’t discuss the military mission in Iraq.

At the drivers’ pre-race meeting, the vice president lauded ties between the auto-racing circuit and the military.

“I know you guys spend a lot of time supporting the troops and the men and women in the armed forces,” he said, looking at the NASCAR drivers and their racing teams.

Cheney posed with drivers whose sponsors are branches of the military, including Greg Biffle (National Guard), Ken Schrader (Air Force) and Joe Nemechek (Army).

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He declined in a TV interview later to reveal which driver was his favorite.

This report includes information from the Associated Press.


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