About 400 people squeezed into the Rayburn foyer Tuesday night to get a picture with a NASCAR phenomenon who was helping fire up the automotive lobby.Michael Waltrip, a two-time winner of the Daytona 500, was on hand for a reception for the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association's (AAIA) annual summit. This year, the group is pushing Congress to pass a "right to repair" act that would require automakers to disseminate their diagnostic technology so repair shops can use less costly after-market parts to repair vehicles".
Waltrip's chief sponsor, NAPA, is a major supplier of aftermarket parts for corporate- and independently-owned auto repair shops.NASCAR fans are extremely passionate, more than other major sports like football and baseball, Waltrip said. "I believe they have a connection to the drivers," he said. "They believe, and they're right that they're a part of it."He attributes such strong fan support to their ability to impact the sport. "They can affect the sport by supporting the sponsors that pay the bills for the teams or the drivers they like to cheer for," he said, wearing a NAPA tie.NASCAR racing commands the second-highest television ratings of all sports, trailing only the National Football League in viewers. Its fans pack into the largest venues for any sport, such as the race at the Indianapolis Speedway with its capacity of 257,000.Multiple lawmakers made the trip just for the photograph and autograph. "North Carolina is the original home of stock car racing," said Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.), while clutching his picture with Waltrip in his right hand. McIntyre identified himself as a member of the Congressional Automotive Performance and Motorsports Caucus, adding that he was proud that NASCAR had gone from a regional event to a sport celebrated nationwide.“NASCAR’s become a huge family event,” he said. Other lawmakers making appearances included Reps. Harold Brown (R-S.C.) and Bill Posey (R-Fla.).Most attendees were congressional staff or people from the AAIA gearing up for their lobby day on Thursday. Linda Pitman, president of the Automotive Recyclers Association, was more focused on meeting with her home-state Texas Republican Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchinson and John Cornyn, but she marveled at what NASCAR does. “Everybody wants to drive fast, and these guys get to drive fast,” she said. “And look at all the money they get doing it.”