South Carolina governor gives NASCAR, Darlington shout out in inauguration speech

Jerry Bonkowski
NBC Sports

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster is admittedly a big NASCAR fan. He’s attended numerous races at one of the sport’s oldest and most revered racetracks, Darlington Raceway, a major draw in The Palmetto State, pulling in an estimated $50-plus million in tourist dollars each year.

So it’s not surprising that the Republican state leader took time during his inauguration speech Wednesday to pay tribute to NASCAR (click here to see the video excerpt, courtesy WLTX TV), saying, “NASCAR racing in Darlington, if you haven’t been, you ought to go.”

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While he stopped short of telling constituents how they can buy tickets for the Sept. 2 Bojangles Southern 500 throwback weekend (this year’s race will feature the 1990-1994 era), he fondly singled out the 2003 race that featured the closest finish in NASCAR history between race winner Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch.

“It is excellence in engineering, perfection, high speed, raw courage, brute force,” McMaster said. “It is something to see. In 2003, after 400 miles with average speeds topping 125 miles per hour, including yellow flags and pit stops, Ricky Craven in a No. 32 Pontiac beat Kurt Busch in a No. 97 Ford by two one-thousandths of a second.

“In distance, that would be the thickness of the paint on the front bumper. If one of Mr. Craven’s tires had been even a little bit flat, he would have lost, he would have lost the race, he would have lost the competition.”

McMaster also used the sport as an example when it came to promoting education in the state.

“Similarly, our state will never excel and succeed to its fullest potential if parts of our state are ‘flat’ – or not performing (education-wise),” he said. “If we are bold and we prepare for the race in front of us, South Carolina will beat the competition every time.”

McMaster was elected in November. He previously had served as South Carolina’s lieutenant governor and then ascended to governor in 2016 when then-governor Nikki Haley resigned to become U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations for President Donald Trump.

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