By Justin Sink
First lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Biden, were booed by some in the crowd Sunday as they served as ceremonial Grand Marshals before the start of the Ford 400 NASCAR race at the Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida.
The pair was at the NASCAR event to promote the Joining Forces initiative, a program championed by the first lady to help veterans returning home from wars in the Middle East.
Obama and Biden were joined behind Ret. Sgt. Andrew Barry, who was wounded in action while fighting in both Iraq and Afghanistan and now volunteers at a Florida veterans center. The group gave the drivers the customary "start your engines" call, but boos from the crowd were noticeably intermixed with cheers on the ESPN broadcast as the politicians' wives were introduced.
"The NASCAR community and the vast majority of those attending our race Sunday welcomed the First Lady and Dr. Jill Biden and the military families in attendance," said Marcus Jadotte, NASCAR Vice President of Public Affairs. "We are proud to support military families across the country and proud to support the Joining Forces initiative."
A spokeswoman for the first lady said that the pair was happy to have appeared at the event in an effort to raise awareness for the program.
"Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden were proud to stand with a true American hero and join NASCAR to honor all the men and woman who serve our country and the families who support them," said Kristina Schake, a spokeswoman for Obama.
She went on to say that the pair enjoyed the stop at the track.
"Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden enjoyed their visit to the speedway and are
looking forward to working across the country to honor America’s
veterans and military families," Schake said.
The Associated Press reported that the women received a warmer reception in an earlier meeting with drivers — after Obama thanked the drivers for their support of military families, they provided a standing ovation.
“I know this is a big day for all of you so we’re not going to take up your time because you need to be focused,” Obama said. “We just wanted to stop by and say thank you. NASCAR has just been amazing in terms of its support not just today, but every day of military families."
Obama and Biden also spoke at a barbecue for military families before the race.
“Everyone around the country is focused on you. And this isn’t just an effort today,” Obama said. “Jill and I, through Joining Forces, we want to make this a part of the dialogue in this country forever. Whether Jill or I are here or not, whether this administration is here or not, this is about the way we want this country to talk about our troops, veterans and military families forever. We want you to feel that appreciation and that gratitude so that you know your sacrifice is not in vain.”
Obama and Biden have used major sports events as a platform for the Joining Forces initiative, including an appearance at the baseball World Series last month.
This post was updated at 3:20 p.m. to include comment from a NASCAR official.