Jerry W. Kilgore declared himself a lifelong NASCAR fan Thursday, and then the Republican gubernatorial candidate strode into Victory Lane at Richmond International Raceway and climbed into car No. 92 for a photo op.
It was the Jerry Kilgore car, the first Nextel Cup car fully sponsored by a Virginia candidate. Emblazoned with Kilgore's blue and orange campaign colors and his name, it will be driven for the next two months by Hermie Sadler.
"The Kilgore car is, literally, a vehicle for getting our message out," Kilgore said as cars screamed around the track in preparation for this weekend's Chevy Rock & Roll 400. "Racing is an integral part of the Commonwealth of Virginia."
Kilgore didn't drive anywhere, but with two months left until the Nov. 8 election, he's hoping that the car will help carry him to the gubernatorial winner's circle.
Appealing to the thousands of NASCAR fans who vote has become something of a tradition in Virginia politics since Mark R. Warner (D) sponsored a racing truck during his campaign for governor four years ago.
Sadler, a Kilgore supporter, said he and his family are making an in-kind contribution to Kilgore's campaign by driving the car in the Oct. 23 race in Martinsville and traveling around the state with it during the campaign.
Delacey Skinner, a spokeswoman for Democratic candidate Timothy M. Kaine, said his campaign also supports NASCAR.
"NASCAR is an important part of Virginia's culture and an important part of the tourism industry," she said. "I don't think that Jerry's unveiling a NASCAR car today is going to distract from the fact that he hasn't shown any real leadership on issues like education and jobs."
Both campaigns said they support Virginia's bid to become the home of NASCAR's hall of fame.
Kilgore said he hoped his sponsorship shows the selection committee that the state is serious about its desire to be the site of the hall. Skinner said Kaine volunteers collected hundreds of signatures on postcards urging NASCAR to put the hall of fame in Virginia.
Warner's success prompted political pundits to dub him the NASCAR candidate, and other politicians across the country have slapped their logos on NASCAR cars, hoping to cash in on the sport's growing popularity.
Kilgore aides said their car goes further: Instead of just putting a logo on a car, No. 92 will be all Kilgore's. If Sadler, who is from Emporia, wins Oct. 23, the announcer will blare "the Kilgore car wins!"
Of course, if he loses, the Kaine campaign might not miss an opportunity to use it as another metaphor for the campaign. And having a car does not guarantee political success. Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean sponsored one during his failed presidential bid, as did Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, whose campaign fizzled early.