AUSTIN, TX --Gentlemen, start your ... political campaign? Gov. Rick Perry's re-election is sponsoring Bobby Labonte's No. 71 Chevrolet for the April 18 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at the Texas Motor Speedway. The campaign said it paid $225,000 for the sponsorship. Perry and Labonte were on hand Tuesday as the car was unveiled at a car dealership in suburban Dallas. It had the words "Governor Perry" painted on the hood, the campaign's Web address emblazoned on each side of the car and the message "Perry Governor 2010" on the back. Perry, a Republican, said Labonte's talent with racing reminds him of the Texas economy. "You build it right and you know what it's capable of," he said. Then, he said, "you put the hammer down." "I know that he's going to take the checkered flag at the speedway and we're going to take the green flag for the economy," Perry said. Labonte, who is 33rd on the NASCAR money leaders list, is originally from Corpus Christi and now lives in North Carolina. "We're really proud to be running this car at the Texas race," said Labonte. After Labonte said he was looking forward a good run "going left" at the race, Perry quipped that a racetrack is "the one place going left is good." Perry is running against Democrat Bill White in November's election. White spokeswoman Katy Bacon said after hearing about the sponsorship, "Given Perry's record on education, we're assuming this car is going to go mostly in reverse or drop out of the race." Nancy Shaefers, 58, from the North Texas town of Aubrey, said she attended the news conference because she's a fan of Labonte and Perry. She said she likes that Perry is helping support NASCAR with the sponsorship and was impressed with the look of Labonte's car for the Texas race. "It's gorgeous. I love the blue and the red," she said. She said she plans to attend the race, which draws more than 400,000 fans to the Fort Worth track. NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said that there's long-standing tradition between NASCAR and politicians, including everything from candidates attending races to campaign slogans popping up on cars. He said that NASCAR doesn't keep data on how many politicians have sponsored teams, but noted that in the last decade, Virginia Democrat Mark Warner sponsored a NASCAR truck while running for governor, as did Democratic presidential hopeful Bob Graham. And as far back as 1960, driver Roy Tyner had a John F. Kennedy for president campaign sticker, though Poston said he didn't know if that was a sponsorship. "It seems every election cycle you see candidates from both parties looking to make that connection with NASCAR fans," he said. Labonte's car will tour Texas in the days leading up to the race.
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