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Graham aims for poll position

Starting Saturday, Sen. Bob Graham will have a campaign sign that goes 150 mph.

The Florida Democrat's presidential campaign has signed a deal to sponsor a team in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

The truck, which will sport Graham's campaign logo, will race Saturday in the O'Reilly Auto Parts 250 in Kansas City, Kan. It will be driven by Jon Wood, a 21-year-old considered a rising star in auto racing.

Graham's sponsorship of Wood's No. 50 Ford truck will represent a new twist in NASCAR, where corporate logos fill every available inch of hoods, dashboards and drivers' uniforms. A handful of political candidates have tried small auto racing sponsorships before, but this will mark the first time a presidential candidate has been on a NASCAR vehicle.

Graham's campaign will pay Roush Racing, the owner of Wood's truck, for an undetermined number of races. The terms of the contract are not being disclosed, but they will become public when the campaign files its finance reports later this year.

"This is an unusual sponsorship," Jack Roush, the owner of the team, said in a statement. "But, when a distinguished United States senator calls with interest in our program, we're glad to accept the support and participation in the Democratic process in a unique way."

The truck will have a white body, red roof and gold numbers, the same color pattern as the original Wood Brothers No. 21 car, which is famous in NASCAR circles. Jon Wood is the third-generation driver of the Wood family.

The truck will also carry a decal from the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation, a conservation group founded by a NASCAR Winston Cup driver. Burton has close ties to David "Mudcat" Saunders and Steve Jarding, the campaign's rural coordinators, and it's likely Burton will make appearances on Graham's behalf.

The truck sponsorship is part of Graham's effort to appeal to "NASCAR Democrats" _ rural voters who have preferred Republican candidates in the past two decades. Campaign aides say Graham's moderate views and his hawkish foreign policy positions should appeal to NASCAR fans.

By choosing the truck races rather than the more popular Winston Cup or Busch series cars, the Graham campaign will get more bang for its buck.

Winston Cup sponsorships, dominated by big companies such as Budweiser and UPS, cost millions of dollars for a season. A truck sponsorship costs considerably less, which should allow the Graham team to race in more states that have Democratic primaries, including Virginia, Tennessee, South Carolina and New Hampshire.

The truck races get only a fraction of the TV viewers as the big Winston Cup events, which will mean less national exposure for Graham. But campaign aides have said they are more interested in reaching the local residents who attend the races and then vote in the Democratic primaries.

Wood, who has been without a sponsor since the Navy moved up to the NASCAR Busch series, has been on a hot streak in his races in the past two months. He has placed in the top five in three of his last four races. He currently ranks seventh among the drivers in the NASCAR truck series.

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