Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks of the President and Ned Jarrett of the Motor Racing Network During a Radio Broadcast of the Pepsi Firecracker 400 in Daytona Beach, Florida

July 04, 1984

Mr. Jarrett. It's now a great pleasure and an honor to welcome President Ronald Reagan, who, as you know, was an athlete himself in college and has a keen interest in sports. So, on behalf of the people on Motor Racing Network, Daytona International Speedway, President Reagan, we welcome you.

The President. Well, Ned, I'm pleased to be here. This is a real kick for me. At the same time, however, having been a sports announcer myself, I'm kind of glad that I didn't have to broadcast this, because I'm having so much trouble trying to sort out who's on first.

Mr. Jarrett. Well, about the time the Air Force One was landing just behind the speedway here, we had a seven car draft for the lead that just made pit stops—what should be their last pit stops. That sometimes tends to break them up a little bit. But Richard Petty, who is trying to win his 200th NASCAR Winston Cup victory here today, which would set an all-time record, is out front now in car number 43—and I believe you have some special ties to the owner of that car.

The President. Yes, and he's sitting right up here—Mike Curb, who is out there and—shouldn't mention this on a holiday like this, a partisanship—but we were kind of tied up in politics back in California. I won't mention which party. [Laughter]

Mr. Jarrett. Okay, we'll let that go by the wayside. I'm sure that you're amazed by the speeds that you're seeing these cars run here today and the control the drivers have over them.

The President. Yes, I am. And I've noticed one thing already. I've been here only a short time, but I've noticed that if you're trying to look at the number on the car, you better look when they're down the track a ways. You're not going to see it when they go by here.

Mr. Jarrett. They're running about 200 miles an hour when they go by our position right here.

The President. 200—

Mr. Jarrett. This is one of the fastest points on the racetrack.

The President. You know, there was a moment out there when the Air Force One was coming in, when I thought that we were over the track, and it was just one of the expressways in normal holiday traffic. [Laughter]

Mr. Jarrett. Sometimes it looks that way. And I think that we should emphasize, even though these cars are going upwards of 200 miles an hour, they are specially built racecars. They're running, of course, on a specially built racetrack. And we—the folks who are listening in by radio in their cars—we wouldn't want them out there trying this on the highway.

The President. No, I hope not. Just —

Mr. Jarrett. Oh, excuse me.

The President. Well, I was just going to say—out there, let them stay bumper to bumper.

Mr. Jarrett. Well, they do run very closely, of course. Drafting—you perhaps have heard that term—and that is very normal and wins many races here on this racetrack. One car running, bursting the wind to open the other car, can run faster than he could normally run by himself by running directly behind the other car. That's why we see them running so close together.

Another thing that we have been pleased with, President Reagan, in this sport—back when I was driving a racecar, it made me feel good to know that I was providing the American public with something besides what I felt was top-notch entertainment, because it serves as a good proving ground for the automotive and after-market manufacturers to prove their products out here, which makes better and safer cars for our highway driving pleasure.

The President. Well, I know that that's always been one of the factors behind these great classic races, is what we learn about further improvements in automobiles. But you've just proven something else about the sport here. This is the first time you've mentioned that about racing yourself, but here you are, hale and hearty and healthy.

Mr. Jarrett. Well, thank God for that. Well, I'll tell you, NASCAR has done a good job over the years, and the rules that go into the building of these racecars—sometimes they get in some pretty serious crashes, but because of the rules and the safety equipment that's built into the cars, the drivers most of the time are able to walk away. And thank God for that.

The President. Now, I just noticed one car that came into the pits, and I know that everyone was supposed to have had their regular pit stop. He looks as though he's got some problem. There isn't any rushing around, as there normally is.

Mr. Jarrett. That is true, and that is Kyle Petty. He's the son of Richard Petty, who is currently leading the race. Of course, Kyle has been racing on this circuit for about 4 years, and you are right that something is wrong with the car, because it's a longer than normal pit stop. Now they're pushing him down pit road, so maybe he'll get back out in the running, but certainly it's cost him any chance about ever winning this race.

The President. Yeah. Well, now, you have a son in a car out here, don't you?

Mr. Jarrett. Yes, I do. He's running his first super speedway event in NASCAR Winston Cup competition. And as we talk, Mr. President, it looked like Kyle Petty's car is being pushed off pit road and behind the wall, so that will be all for him today. The President. Oh, well.

Mr. Jarrett. And it's a shame to run this near the end of the race with about 25 laps to go, and he was running very well in the event here today. So, he'll go back and see if he can see his dad win his 200th race here today.

Let's pick up the winner. You were an old sportscaster and see if we can—Richard Petty, of course, driving car number 43. Here he comes now off of turn four, the blue and red car. Why don't you pick him up and call him down through the front straightaway?

The President. Oh, wait a minute here. Well— [laughter] —somebody just went past somebody right out here in front of us. I don't think that's informed anyone who's listening on the radio very much about the race, but I thought they changed positions just as they went by here.

Mr. Jarrett. They certainly did, and Cale Yarborough, who is running the car number 28, is gaining on Richard Petty right now, who is running out front. And you notice how high Petty runs through the wall—or through the turn up next to the wall and turns one and two, but that's his style of driving. You do see a lot of passing in this area right directly in front of us.

The President. Yes. I hadn't noticed that before. Just when they get past the finish line here, many of them make their move going into that upper turn.

Mr. Jarrett. Well, this is one of the fastest points on the racetrack, and the drafting takes such an effect right in this area of the racetrack. And that's one reason that they're able to make the moves and move around the cars in front of here. One car is sticking to the pavement a little bit better than another one. That helps him in this area where the—[inaudible]—is as we see.

Going into turn one, Cale Yarborough continues to gain on Richard Petty, so it looks like we'll have a shootout down near the end of this race between those two drivers. They pulled away from the balance of the field. Currently running in third place is Terry Labonte. Harry Gant is in fourth place and Bobby Allison in fifth place. And a fellow who has put on more good races with Richard Petty, David Pearson, is pulling into the pits now—the hood goes up on that car, and there's trouble on the racetrack, Mr. President. We need to give it to our turn announcer.

Mr. Jarrett. Well, President Reagan, that was Ken Ragan that scraped the wall. He spells his name, R-A-G-A-N. But he does have a sign on the back of that car: "Ragan's for Reagan." [Laughter] So, I know that you appreciate that.

The President. I didn't know I had a relative out here. [Laughter] Of course, I found out of the clan when I was in Ireland—and the clan Reagan over there, every family just sort of picked out the way they'd spell the name. [Laughter]

Mr. Jarrett. Well, yours has certainly become a popular one.

If you look directly across from us, Bobby Allison's pit, car number 22 where he's pitting there, and he has a special sign for you there on the wall. It's on the pit wall as you see the yellow stripe that goes across there. It says, "We love Ron."

The President. Well, I appreciate that very much.

Mr. Jarrett. Well, I know that a lot of these fellows are so pleased to have you here today and taking part in this big Independence Day celebration.

The President. I'm just marveling at you and your ability, as they come off that upper turn way over there, to pick out who they are and what position and all.

Mr. Jarrett. Well, see, I have—

The President. That's having lived down among them.

Mr. Jarrett. That's right. I have an advantage on you. I've been around this business for about 30 years and know the fellows and know the colors. And, really, when they get on the backstretch, the color is about the only way that you can pick out the car.

We'll watch Richard Petty now as he comes off of turn four, and you can see Cale Yarborough in the orange car is gradually picking up on him. They have some cars that they're coming up to put a lap on. Of course, they're running faster than those cars. That will help both of them as they pick up the draft of each of those cars as they come in front of them.

The President. In other words, Petty is in number one now.

Mr. Jarrett. Petty's in first place in the car number 43 and Yarborough in car number 28. Now, they are two of the biggest winners here. Yarborough has won 14 events on this speedway. Petty has won 10. He's won two of these Firecracker races. He's won seven of the Daytona 500 events.

And it'll be interesting to see, as they come up on this two cars that they're lapping now on the backstretch, Petty is able to move right up on the outside of them very carefully and get ahead of Yarborough going into that turn.

The President. You know, if I were faced with the responsibility of broadcasting this, Ned, and with Petty out in front, I would just keep watching Mike Curb down here to find out whether he was in front yet or fallen behind.

Mr. Jarrett. His reaction tells the story.

The President. Yes. [Laughter]

Mr. Jarrett. It certainly does. Well, he's-everyone here—I think Petty has such a tremendous following, and they've been waiting for him to win 200. The closest driver to him is David Pearson, who was in the pits there a moment ago. Pearson has 105 victories. But Petty has had such an illustrious career and has been so good for the sport. But he has his hands full now as Yarborough continues to, what we call in the sport, reel him in, because he's gaining on him.

The President. They're reversed right now as to their previous position when we first saw them out here in that one, two spot.

Mr. Jarrett. Yes.

The President. But holding at about the same distance but with the one who was second now first.

Mr. Jarrett. Yes. Yarborough made a little longer pit stop than Petty, and that gave him an advantage. But his car seems to be running a little bit faster run now, and he's close enough now that he can pick up the draft. And we'll keep you here for just a moment, and we'll let you call that pass, if he indeed does pass him.

The next time around, he should be right on his bumper as they go into turn one. He moves right in on the back bumper of Richard Petty. He's definitely in the draft as they go into that turn. So, we'll see if Yarborough can make the move.

See how high they go off the turn.

The President. Yes.

Mr. Jarrett. And Yarborough'll be trying to get a good running start down the backstretch. He might be a little too far behind this time to make the pass.

The President. He has crept up, though.

He's only about half the distance he was on that last lap.

Mr. Jarrett. He's moved right in on his back bumper now:

The President. Yes. Yes.

Mr. Jarrett. Now, that's not the place to pass, as he comes off of that fourth turn. I don't think—

The President. It'll be down here to our right.

Mr. Jarrett. It'll be down here or going down the backstretch.

Here he is at the start-finish line, Yarborough.

The President. It looks like it's going to be—

Mr. Jarrett. Petty was still out front.

The President. Yeah.

Mr. Jarrett. Yarborough couldn't make the pass there. Let's see as he comes off of turn two what he can do with it there. He dips down to the low side. Petty will go high in the turn. Now Yarborough drifts up right behind him. And he is definitely in the full force of the draft now. With Petty opening up quite a space of wind in front of him, that lets Yarborough's car run a little bit freer. But he still can't make the pass as they go into turn three.

So, we're going to throw it back upstairs again, Mr. President. It's been a real pleasure having you here with us today for this Pepsi Firecracker 400.

The President. Well, it's a wonderful Fourth of July for me. And I wish everybody a very happy Fourth.

Mr. Jarrett. We know that you look forward to greeting the winner.

The President. All right.

Note: The President spoke at 12:02 p.m. from a viewing box in the grandstands of the Daytona International Speedway. Following the race, he greeted the winner, Richard Petty, in the viewing box.

Earlier in the day, the President started the race by telephone from Air Force One shortly after leaving Washington, DC.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks of the President and Ned Jarrett of the Motor Racing Network During a Radio Broadcast of the Pepsi Firecracker 400 in Daytona Beach, Florida Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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