Editor's note: Claude Vorilhon, who inspired the creation of the Bahamian company that claimed this week to have produced the first human clone, drove a race car at Daytona Beach International Speedway in 1997. A News-Journal reporter talked to him then about his claims of alien abduction and the start of his religion, the Raelians.
Daytona Beach -- Some would say the sleek No. 19 Argo BMW screaming around the turns at the Speedway on Saturday looks like a rocket from another planet.
The car's driver would be quick to correct such an observation; alien spacecraft are actually shaped like a squat bell, and aren't nearly so noisy.
The Frenchman claims to have been taken aboard such a ship, and been told the origins of life on Earth. He's now the top dog of his own religion, and travels around the world spreading the extra-terrestrial word.
His given name is Claude Vorilhon, but now he goes by Rael. Once you're head of your own religion and have visited another planet, you can switch to a single name, like Spock or Madonna.
Rael, who wears a beard, pencil-thin mustache and ponytail, said he was drawn to an extinct volcano in his native France one December day in 1973. Stop me if you've heard this one, but he spotted a flashing light in the sky. It descended, and out popped a staircase.
"A small human being with very large, almond-shaped eyes came out," Rael said.
The alien and Rael sat down like civilized folks and talked about the meaning of life. The spaceman told Rael that his race, known as the Elohim, started life on Earth by manipulating DNA.
Before the aliens knew it, newly ripened humans were running around all over the place, knocking over lab equipment and making a general nuisance of themselves.
Rael says the Bible supports this tale, because Elohim means "those who came from the sky" in Hebrew, but through a glitch in the translation, it came to mean "God."
Displaying a strangely human interest in the publishing world, the alien told Rael to write a book about his experience -- $11 in paperback, plus $2 for shipping. His followers -- the Raelian Church claims 35,000 members -- also must build an embassy near Jerusalem because the aliens are coming back.
"They will return by the year 2035 -- that is the deadline," Rael said.
One of the tenets of the Raelian Church is that intelligence tests should be given from birth, and only those with above-average intelligence should be allowed to hold office -- a proposal sure to make many elected officials nervous.
Rael, who renewed his involvement with racing a few years ago, hooked up with owner/driver Edd Davin for the Rolex 24. Rael foregoes the holy garments he wears on the cover of his book when driving his car, which boasts 650 horsepower, even without warp drive. Presumably, the flowing robes would get tangled in the clutch.
Davin, who looked like he'd rather be answering questions about his car than his fellow driver, said Rael's otherworldly beliefs don't bother him.
"As far as I'm concerned, anybody can believe what they want to believe," Davin said.
Of course, the fact that Rael brought a sponsor along probably didn't hurt. The BMW's hood bears the words "Visit UFOland -- Valcourt, Quebec." UFOland, due to open in May, bills itself as the first theme park based on alien phenomenon.
"It is like your Epcot Center," Rael explained, "but with UFOs."