Tales from the Trail

State Department revs up NASCAR Diplomacy


Foggy Bottom, rev your engines.

The U.S. State Department, for the first time ever, is turning to NASCAR to help get America’s message across.

The department said 11 young motor enthusiasts from Bahrain and Qatar will participate in the inaugural “motorsports exchange” this month, including a visit to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in North Carolina and a stop in Miami for races at the Homestead-Miami speedway.

The young delegates from the Gulf, who are all involved in auto racing as drivers, mechanics or car or track performance technicians, will receive briefings on “NASCAR research and development, track safety, crew diversity and community and family involvement,” the department said in a press note.

The initiative is part of the State Department’s “SportsUnited” program, which aims to show how success in athletics can translate into success in other aspects of life.

Along with sending U.S. sports stars overseas, SportsUnited brings foreign delegations ranging from Nepalese basketball players to Russian swimmers to the United States.

The First Draft: Backlash against Obama’s classroom message

OBAMA/What could be more mainstream than the president of the United States addressing the country’s school kids on their first day in class after the Labor Day weekend? That must have been what White House officials were thinking when they set up a speech by Barack Obama for next Tuesday.

The theme, according to the presidential Web site, couldn’t be blander: work hard, be responsible and stay in school. Even the White House recognized the possibly low excitement level of the subject and in addition to a video promo by the president, there’s also one featuring NASCAR drivers, urging students and their parents to tune in.

BUSH EDUCATIONThat’s not how some parents — and political conservatives — saw it, especially in Texas.

Obama reaches out to NASCAR nation

OBAMA/One group of Americans who failed to support Barack Obama in his race for the presidency last year were “NASCAR Dads,” white, working-class Southern men presumed to be fans of the U.S. racing circuit. The president reached out to them in a big way on Wednesday by hosting a ceremony in honor of Jimmie Johnson, NASCAR’s 2008 Sprint Cup Champion, with Johnson and an array of current drivers and former NASCAR champions.

“You know, it is not every day that we have a championship stock car parked out on the South Lawn,” joked Obama, known more as a fan of Chicago’s basketball and baseball teams than as a racing aficionado.

“Fortunately, we got Jimmie to agree not to do any burnouts or tear up my back yard. ”I also suggested to Jimmie that, in exchange for free parking, he should let me take “the 48″ out for a few laps, referring to Johnson’s car. He said that was fine — but Secret Service didn’t think it was fine.”OBAMA/

Trying to shore up base, Cindy McCain goes to North Carolina

rtx8sbh.jpgWith polls showing that Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama has a shot at winning North Carolina, Republican rival John McCain is sending his wife Cindy to the state on Saturday to shore up what has traditionally been a stronghold for conservatives.

Obama has made inroads in North Carolina and made the city of Asheville his spot for preparing for the debate held this week. Plus, two out of three polls released this week have shown the Democrat ahead by as many as five points while the third poll showed McCain ahead by 3 points.

Cindy McCain, who has been taking a more prominent role in the campaign in recent days, will serve as the Grand Marshal at the NASCAR Bank of America 500 race on Saturday in Concord, North Carolina, the Republican’s campaign said.