Saturday, July 1, 2006

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The stock cars weren’t the only things buzzing the track at Daytona yesterday — Vice President Dick Cheney made his grand entrance when Air Force II flew in low over the crowd gathering for the Pepsi 400 NASCAR race.

Upon arrival at Daytona International Speedway, Mr. Cheney’s motorcade went around the track at a relative crawl of 60 mph, passing fans on the infield who waved flags for their favorite drivers. The vice president spoke at a pre-race meeting, where he got a standing ovation from the drivers and their crews and his excited staff took pictures with Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Mr. Cheney wished the drivers a safe race and thanked them for all their visits with troops.

“NASCAR has developed a hell of a reputation, not only, obviously, for the stock-car racing, but also for being tremendous members of the community,” he said.

Yesterday offered Mr. Cheney a double-dip in the all-important political state of Florida: visiting the Kennedy Space Center and then catching the race.

The vice president had hoped to see Space Shuttle Discovery blast off on the first shuttle mission in nearly a year, but thunderstorm clouds forced a postponement. Mr. Cheney said he was disappointed, especially because he brought his three granddaughters along for the occasion.

“We’ll have to bring them back another day,” he said. “It’s a great program, and it’s important that we keep going and keep our space program going.”

Joining Mr. Cheney and his wife, Lynne, were granddaughters: Kate, 12; Elizabeth, 8; and Grace, 6.

The vice president’s aides tried to extend exposure of Mr. Cheney’s trip beyond the traditional audience, inviting a team from Sports Illustrated to join the traveling White House press. He also had interviews scheduled with Fox Sports and Motor Racing Network, which handles NASCAR’s radio coverage.

More than 20 years ago, when Mr. Cheney was a congressman from Wyoming, he attended a shuttle launch. But the NASCAR race was a first for him.

The Pepsi 400 has become a popular event for national leaders. President Reagan was the first commander in chief to attend a race when he went in 1984. Both President Bush and his father have attended the race, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld attended last year.

The race is a particularly patriotic event because it is scheduled for the Independence Day weekend and draws a large military crowd.

Earlier yesterday, Mr. Cheney underwent his annual physical, which showed his overall heart condition was stable and that his high-tech pacemaker is working properly and has not been activated by any irregular heartbeats.

Mr. Cheney, 65, who has a long history of heart ailments, had an electrocardiogram and imaging to check on repaired aneurysms on the back of his knees, his spokeswoman said.

Doctors also checked the condition of an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), which was placed in his chest in June 2001.

“The vice president’s cardiac status remains stable, his ICD is functioning properly and has not treated any arrhythmia,” or irregular heartbeat, according to a statement from his spokeswoman, Lea Anne McBride.

Mr. Cheney is scheduled to have a stress test on a treadmill in the fall as part of a comprehensive cardiac evaluation.

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