“When I was a kid, whenever it was Saturday afternoon and had to decide on going to a baseball park, or race go-karts on the weekend, I always picked racing. I loved the adrenaline rush more than any other sport. There’s just no other feeling or sensation like it……”
Tampa, Florida’s Aric Almirola was born to race. “My Grandfather and my Uncles were racing sprint cars when my Dad and Mother met, so my family has always been involved in racing. When I was eight, my Grandfather decided to quit racing dirt cars, and subsequently bought me a go-kart. From then on everyone got behind my racing.”
With the youngest Almirola behind the wheel, the family’s driving ambitions immediately garnered wins, and between 1992 to 1997 he took both local and regional World Karting Association championships (WKA). By 1998, Aric was regularly contending in the WKA national ranks, and made a splash by taking pole for his first Grand National at Daytona, followed by finishing the season up fourth overall. From then on he never looked back.
In 2000, the Almirola family combine moved up to the Florida Modified and Southern Automobile Racing Association (SARA) series, and things started getting serious. In SARA, Aric took rookie-of-the-year honors, then in 2001 moved up to the most competitive racing in the state by joining Florida’s Sunbelt Super Late Model Series (SSLMS). At that level, Aric continued to distinguish by finishing second in the rookie-of-the-year ranks, then followed his first year performance by reeling off a string of six poles the next year.
In 2004, Almirola was selected as a charter member of the prestigious Joe Gibbs Racing/Reggie White Driver Diversity Program, based on developing an early-stage minority ladder for young race drivers. There, Aric produced an impressive series of Late Model pavement performances including; two wins, six top-fives, and fifteen top-tens.
In 2005, he continued his momentum toward a professional NASCAR career by producing seven wins, and eleven poles in various Southeastern Late Model Series. These results afforded him an opportunity to drive the Morgan-Dollar Chevrolet Silverado in NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series later in the year, and Aric did not miss the chance to impress by producing two top-tens in only four events.
Almirola’s consistent race pace created an opportunity to run a partial Nationwide 2006 schedule with Gibbs, then followed that up with a 2007 Nationwide campaign that netted him three poles, six top-tens, and a win at the Milwaukee Mile. This final series of events set the scene for an eventual move up to a full time Nationwide ride, and a stint in Sprint Cup with the former Dale Earnhardt Industries (DEI), that created a business relationship that would ultimately helped him secure his current JR Motorsports deal.
“In the summer of 2010 I was running the truck series and had already won a couple of races, along with leading the points at that time. While all that was going on, I kind of became the substitute driver for Jimmy Johnson at Hendrick, in the event that Jimmy and his wife had to miss a race due to the birth of their first baby. “
“This opportunity allowed me to not only build a relationship with Hendrick, but it allowed me to work with Dale Jr. again. We’d known each other for a long time and had a relationship, but the Hendrick deal gave us a chance to talk regularly. So, at Daytona last year, he asked me to drive his Nationwide car at O’Reilly Raceway Park (ORP) that year, and we qualified really well and ran upfront all night.”
“At the time, I didn’t have a contract for 2011, and didn’t know what I was going to be doing, and as it turned out neither did the JR Motorsports people, so when we ran really well at ORP, it was kind of like the writing on the wall. I really wanted to be part of JR Motorsports, and felt that we had a lot of potential together, so I talked to Dale about it, and in about a month we had a deal that allowed me to join the company full-time driving the #88 Degree For Men Nationwide car.”
Throughout a nearly twenty-year career in racing, Aric Almirola has clearly distinguished himself as an outstanding role model for the Cuban-American community, the NASCAR community, as a commercial representative, and as a gentleman racer in general. But in the end of the day, his personal commitment as an All-American motorsports Adrenalist will continue to resonate today, and far into the future.