BOSTON - Well now, that was the most dashing photo op since the president donned his flight jacket and landed on the USS Lincoln to declare "Mission Accomplished."
On Sunday, George W. took public transportation down to Daytona International Speedway and buzzed the 180,000 fans in the stadium and 35 million viewers on television.
Then, with Air Force One parked within camera range of the track, Mr. Bush popped out in his black Daytona 500 jacket, rode an SUV partway around the track, bumped "Massachusetts liberal" Ben Affleck from his role as starter and got the gentlemen to start their engines.
About a hundred laps later, the president was back in the skies, leaving behind a Republican voter-registration touring bus labeled "Race to Victory."
All this was billed - and I do mean billed - as a presidential, not a political, visit. Mission accomplished.
OK, congratulations are due to winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. But he was not the only one doing a victory lap. Nor was his late father the only Dad getting a tribute. This was a moment when all the sports metaphors we use to describe politics - from slam-dunk to hitting it out of the park - morphed into one: NASCAR Dads.
In case you don't wear designer labels, NASCAR Dad is man of the political year. He's the X-Y chromosomes heir to the Joe-Six-Pack, Reagan-Democrat, Angry-White-Man types and stereotypes of years gone by. Ever since pollster Celinda Lake, a whiz at political subdivision, defined him as the voter to woo, there's been a debate about who he is and how he votes.
NASCAR officials say you can't categorize 75 million fans. Howard Dean got into trouble talking about Southern men "with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks." But by and large, NASCAR Dad has become shorthand for socially conservative and economically struggling white men. And the Bush folks want him on their side of the red-blue divide.
I don't know much about stock car racing, but every time some politician waves the checkered flag at this man, I want to put on the brakes. I think they're forgetting the Dad in the NASCAR Dad.
Matthew Adams, who co-wrote Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul (believe it or not), called the speedway a metaphor for life. "Who does not race through life at breakneck speeds only inches from the competition and an unforgiving wall? What could be more American than that?"
Who doesn't? Dad doesn't. The NASCAR Dad may like risk-taking as a spectator sport, but these days he's the guy buckling the kids in the child seats. In the same vein, he believes in national defense but doesn't want anybody conning his sons and daughters into combat over missing weapons of mass destruction.
As for the home front? The economy, education, the environment? The administration's policies can be summed up in the revised lyrics: Let's stop thinking about tomorrow. But when you become a Dad, the future stretches out farther than the next lap.
The analysts may not think of NASCAR Dads as green, but a well-oiled administration that revoked approval of the Kyoto protocols, made a scam of fuel emission standards and barely uttered a post-9/11 peep about renewable energy is offering the next generation a future about as dark as the track. As Dan Becker of the Sierra Club says, the White House environmental policy "begins and ends with 'Gentlemen, start your engines.' "
As for being socially conservative and economically stressed? The best part about NASCAR races is that they don't have any halftime. The sports event that riled up America this Super Bowl season was Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" tucked in between ads for erectile dysfunction and flatulent horses.
Thankfully, CBS managed to protect our family values by rejecting an advocacy ad from MoveOn.org as too controversial. That little spot features kids working as dishwashers and garbage collectors, asking "Guess who's going to pay off President Bush's $1 trillion deficit?"
But when dads at any speed think about protecting kids and the future, the deficit looks as raunchy and nakedly bad for the kids as Janet's star-studded body.
I'm not suggesting that the D in Daytona stands for Democrat. In 1992, Bill Clinton got booed at a NASCAR event. Southern white males voted for Mr. Bush over Al Gore, 70 percent to 20 percent. And John Kerry rides a motorcycle, not a stock car.
But this is not your father's NASCAR Dad. A father's role in the family is changing. He presents a more complicated, protective and caring image than the Republican pitch of tax cuts and orange alerts.
If this voter is going to swing, it had better be to the party that offers his kids more than a trip around and around and around the same old track.
Ellen Goodman is a columnist for The Boston Globe. Her column appears Mondays and Thursdays in The Sun.