Florida's Charlie Crist Seeks Grassroots on Local Fast Track

Dwight Drum@@racetakeCorrespondent IIIAugust 29, 2010

It would seem modern political campaigns are more concerned about search engines than real engines, but Florida Governor Charlie Crist has taken a different tack this political season. Not only has the lifelong Republican switched to Independent last April in his bid to secure the open Florida U.S. Senate seat, but he has also taken his campaign message to the people via a variety of means.

Crist chose a V-8 high horsepower FASCAR Pro-Truck racing machine from many entries at New Smyrna Speedway in New Smyrna Beach, Florida earlier this year. The bright red No. 11 Ford race truck owned by Robert Strader of B&H Truck and RV Services, Inc. and driven by his son, FSU student Bobby Strader, now carries “Charlie Crist for U.S. Senate” decals on it when it roars to the green flag.

While Crist is busy spreading focused quotes like: "It's about the people, not about the party,” he also takes time to relate to the many folks he encounters. It was that process that hooked him up with 23-year-old Strader at New Smyrna Speedway. 

Track owner Robert Hart explained Crist’s visit to his speedway.

“He had been to our racetrack in New Smyrna,” Hart said. “He poured beer, drank beer, got in with the guys and really became one of the people. Not just for himself. He really enjoyed it.”

Crist was pleased about the chance meeting with the local racing team.

“It was a wonderful opportunity to get together and ever since then we’ve been running and racing together,” Crist said.

Young Strader enjoyed the process only after his dad urged him to meet the governor. 

“We met back in February,” Strader said. “He came down to the World Series of Asphalt Racing at New Smyrna Speedway. We hit it off because we are both Florida State. He’s an alumnus. 

“Ever since then we’ve both been able to help each other. I’m helping to get the word out for his race to the U.S. Senate and it’s an honor to have his name on our truck.”

During a “meet and greet” session recently at the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union Hall 803 in Orlando , Fla., the Straders brought out the No. 11 Ford race truck for public display.

Robert Hart attended that event out of respect.

“I’m here to support him, because he supported us,” Hart said. “We got Mr. Strader here with his truck that’s got a Charlie Crist sign on it, so two of us can’t be wrong.“

The economy has had profound effects on candidates and business owners. Hart spends most of his time with the difficult task of running a racetrack.

“The biggest thing is trying to get a purse worthwhile for racing,” Hart added. “It’s very difficult. I’ve only got one night a week to crack the nut to keep that track open.”

Strader is sympathetic.

“The track owner Robert Hart, he puts a lot into letting us race,” Strader said. Without him keeping those racetracks open, we would have nowhere to go locally.”

Robert Strader, Bobby’s father, understands the significance of local racing. 

“If it wasn’t for the local level racing that we do, there would be no NASCAR,” Strader said. “Although there is no money to be won in our level, people get to see what our local tracks are like and meet the drivers.”

At New Smyrna Speedway you might see advertising banners from Coca-Cola, Budweiser, Sunoco, and stickers from JEGS high performance parts, but don’t look for major sponsors on race car hoods and quarter panels. Young Strader explained.

“All the local racers and short track guys have to do everything themselves,” Strader said. “It’s all their blood, sweat, and tears that goes into these cars.”

Strader is determined to finish up at FSU, and discussed his plans for the future.

“I’ll be done in December with a double major in accounting and finance and after that we do not know where we are going to take this as far as we can,” Strader said. “We’re working very hard to try to get somebody on board that respects how clean we are and how hard we work and where we’re going with this operation.”

Just like Crist looks to move up to the U.S.Senate, the Straders hope to move up to NASCAR. Crist seeks voters. The Straders seek sponsors.

When asked to compare his campaign to motorsports, Crist was swift to answer.

“Well, they are both races,” Crist said. "No question about it. You got to run hard. You got to run smart. You got to run safe.”

Crist had a faster response about what he prefers when going to New Smyrna Speedway.

“Watching Robert win,” he said.

Perhaps these grassroots will be the fast patches of earth where new careers launch.

Photo credit: Charlie Crist and Bobby Strader by Dwight Drum @ Racetake.com

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