Imagine answering your front door and finding a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver and race car outside. And the driver is bearing gifts. That's exactly what happened to an Indianapolis family when Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 43 Eckrich® Ford, rang the doorbell of the Baier home Friday afternoon.
Almirola and sponsor Eckrich, part of the John Morrell Food Group, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, made the surprise visit as part of their partnership with Operation Homefront, a national non-profit organization that provides emergency financial assistance to the families of United States service members and wounded warriors.
The driver presented retired U.S. Army serviceman Scott Baier and his family with a gift package that included Eckrich products as well as Eckrich shirts and hats autographed by Almirola and Richard Petty Motorsports team owner and racing legend Richard Petty. Almirola also gave the family VIP passes to Sunday's Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The Baiers also got a close-up look at Almirola's race car. Waiting outside their home was the No. 43 Eckrich Ford Fusion show car, decked out in the sponsor's logo colors and the Operation Homefront logo. Family members got to peek inside and take souvenir photographs with Almirola beside the car as curious neighbors looked on at the entertaining spectacle.
The Indianapolis race is the second of three races where the Eckrich paint scheme will adorn the No. 43 Ford. The third will be at Michigan International Speedway on August 19. Almirola, who was born on a U.S. Air Force base, feels a special connection to military causes like the Eckrich program with Operation Homefront and hopes that fans will show support, too.
"This is all about drawing attention to our military members and their families," said Almirola. "They give up so much, just so the rest of us can go about our daily lives feeling safe. Today we made a surprise visit to give some cool gifts and a great experience to the Baiers here in Indianapolis, but there are so many other military members and families that should be recognized and thanked as well. And we hope that by doing something like this, we'll get some other people interested in helping out too."
Eckrich has already donated $200,000 to Operation Homefront through the contribution of five cents from each purchase of specially marked products from May 1 through July 4. The company and Richard Petty Motorsports' No. 43 team also recently launched a coin collection program with a special bank made out of a race tire. The coin bank is traveling with the Eckrich show car to encourage fans to donate spare change to help military families. The bank will also be at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend and in Michigan next month.
"It's been wonderful how our partnership with Richard Petty Motorsports has helped elevate this cause," said Charles Gitkin, vice president, marketing, innovation and R&D for the John Morrell Food Group. "One thing we've seen in our efforts with the race team is that NASCAR fans are extremely appreciative of military families and the sacrifices that they make. So, if we can help showcase the good work that Operation Homefront is doing, then I think we can bring more support to this important cause."
Almirola and the No. 43 Eckrich Ford will compete in the Brickyard 400 Sunday afternoon. The race will be televised live by ESPN.