Allen says, 'Start your engines'

Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) on Sunday served as grand marshal for the NASCAR Food City 500 in Bristol, Tenn., which sits just over the Virginia state line.

Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) on Sunday served as grand marshal for the NASCAR Food City 500 in Bristol, Tenn., which sits just over the Virginia state line.

As grand marshal at the “world’s fastest half-mile,” Allen’s chief duty was to utter the famous call, “START YOUR ENGINES!!!!” and wave the green flag to begin the race.

He also gave a pep talk to the drivers prior to the race, briefly addressed the crowd and did an interview with the motor-sports-crazy Performance Racing Network.

As is customary at most NASCAR events, the event’s title sponsor, Food City, selected the grand marshal.

Steve Smith, the company’s president and CEO, said Allen has “been to the race before and he’s a huge NASCAR fan; he pulls for his Virginia drivers.”

“We obviously admire Senator Allen; he’s served the commonwealth well,” Smith said.

It’s not Allen’s first time wielding the green flag. Throughout his political career, he’s also served as grand marshal at the Richmond, Martinsville and Charlotte races.

Courting the NASCAR crowd has become de rigueur for Virginia pols. Last year’s grand marshal at Bristol was gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore (R), who also sponsored Mike Wallace’s No. 4 car during the race.

Kilgore’s opponent, Gov. Tim Kaine (D), promised during the campaign to make bringing the NASCAR Hall of Fame to Richmond a priority.

Former Gov. Mark Warner (D), currently a 2008 presidential hopeful, had his campaign logo splashed on a NASCAR racing truck in his 2001 campaign.


Shocker spirit in Tiahrt’s office

It isn’t often for most members that their home-district college hoops teams make the NCAA Sweet 16. It’s even more rare that the game is played in Washington.

Reps. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) and Tom Davis (R-Va.) took advantage Friday as their respective teams — the Wichita State Shockers and the local George Mason Patriots of Fairfax, Va. — met at Verizon Center in a clash of Cinderella stories.

Tiahrt’s office was a hotbed of activity Friday as hometown fans swooped in for a quick Capitol tour while in town.

“We’ve had a good showing from Kansas,” a giddy Tiahrt said about four hours before game time.

There was, however, some minor conflict in the Tiahrt clan. His daughter, Jessica, is pursuing her law degree at GMU.

“She told me, ‘It’s kind of like having two of your best friends ask you to be in their wedding on the same day,’” he said, adding quickly that she’d “be in the Shockers’ section and rooting for them.”

But sadly for the elder Tiahrt, Jessica’s other best friend won out, as the Patriots did the shocking, taking out Wichita and then top-seeded Connecticut to earn a trip to this weekend’s Final Four.

Tiahrt and Davis, it turns out, had a bit more spirit than those spoiled members with ties to the other, big-name programs in town this weekend — the Huskies of Washington and the championship-draped Huskies of U-Conn.

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) planned to take in Friday night’s game in his district, as did Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.).

Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) was traveling but was determined to “find a TV,” his spokeswoman said.

Neither of Connecticut’s senators showed up at the arena, but they had good excuses.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) was observing Sabbath on Friday night and traveled back to the state by Sunday.

A spokesman for Sen. Chris Dodd (D) said he was “very sad to miss the game” but was traveling to Hawaii for the funeral service of Sen. Daniel Inouye’s wife, Margaret, who passed away last week.


Fundraisers for carnivores this week

Meat lovers with PAC money to spend need not venture far from the Hill this week.

Wednesday night, Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.) hosts his 21st annual North Carolina Barbeque at the American Trucking Associations building. Your $1,000 should get you plenty of falling-off-the-bone meat.

His chief of staff, Edward McDonald, told us that for 20 years the smoky meat was prepped and provided by Junior Teague, the commissioner of Alamance County. But Teague died right around last year’s event, so this year Coble turned to Hursey’s Bar-B-Q out of Burlington, N.C.

They discovered Hursey’s last year at the Taste of the Capitol event in the Members’ Dining Room.

Also tonight, Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) hosts his semiannual Steak-Out fundraiser. The highlight of the $1,000-per-PAC, $500-per-person reception is a drawing for Kansas City strip steaks, packed in dry ice and shipped to the winners.

Finally, on Thursday, Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.) hosts his annual Brat Fry for $1,000 per PAC and $500 per individual

Coincidentally, the same fundraising consultant, Todd Meredith, produced all three events. He did not return phone calls, so no word on whether you get a free angioplasty for attending all three.

If meat’s not your thing, other Republicans can certainly amuse you this week. Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.), Congress’s second-youngest member, hosts a fundraiser tomorrow at the circus at Verizon Center.

Also tomorrow, the Second Amendments, those rockin’ congressmen, gather at the American Legion hall for a gig to raise some cash for their bass player, Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.).



Grassley pounds pavement in training

The good news for lobbyists is that there’s a surefire way for them to spend some quality time with the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

The bad news is that they’ll have to get up very early and be in good enough shape to run three miles with him.

That’s because Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is training for a 5K race May 3 to benefit the D.C. Special Olympics. Just last week, he increased his distance from two to three miles as he prepares to take part in the 25th Annual ACLI Capitol Challenge race along the Anacostia waterfront.

The 72-year-old Grassley jogs through his Arlington, Va., neighborhood at 5:30 a.m., usually accompanied by several dedicated staffers.

Grassley and his Runners for Office team of four aides will have to improve their time to catch up with last year’s fastest Senate team, Nevada Republican John Ensign’s Battle Born Runners, which finished the course in 19 minutes and 40 seconds. That was well ahead of Grassley’s team, which crossed the finish line in 27 minutes and 56 seconds. The fastest House team was the Mercenary Highlanders of Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), with a time of 18 minutes and 17 seconds.


Baucus aide honored at Weiss home

Russ Sullivan may not be an Iraqi diplomat, an ex-spy or a best-selling author, but nevertheless he was feted Saturday at the Kalorama home of D.C. socialites Jeffrey and Juleanna Glover Weiss.

The staff director for Senate Finance Committee Democrats, Sullivan was honored for receiving the 2006 Lewis Hine Award for outstanding service on behalf of children and youth.

Sullivan founded the Capital Area WAVE-Reach program, a local affiliate of the national Work, Achievement, Values & Education (WAVE) charity. The local chapter serves underprivileged youth in D.C. and Northern Virginia with tutoring, mentoring, financial support and career exploration.

Sullivan has been a foster father, and he regularly travels to visit his family in Arkansas for Christmas with a carful of his charges, who like to call him “Pops.”

Finance Committee ranking member Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who nominated Sullivan for the award, told The Hill, “I’d be proud to have Russ on my staff just on the basis of his work, but it’s wonderful to get to honor him for all the ways he makes the world a better place.”

 Albert Eisele contributed to this page.