Ford Performance NASCAR: Aric Almirola Stepping Away After 2022 Season

Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing, announced earlier this week that the 2022 season would be his last as a full-time driver in the NASCAR Cup Series.  He held a Q&A session this afternoon to talk about that decision with members of the media.


ARIC ALMIROLA, No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang — HOW LONG DID THIS DECISION TAKE AND WAS IT A PRETTY OBVIOUS ONE FOR YOU?  “No, it was not a very obvious decision. I talked about this quite a bit yesterday after announcing it, but for the last several years I’ve thought about just when is the end.  I’ve not thought about actually retiring in any of those years, but I have thought about, like, when will it end.  And I’ve thought about it in the past.  When I broke my back in 2017 at Kansas.  That was my last year of my contract that year with Petty’s, and I thought that potentially could be the end, so I’ve had multiple opportunities to think about what will that look like when my career is over.  Fortunately, and timing and God’s will and all the things that played out to give me the opportunities to prolong my career to this point, but, it’s hard to make that decision to walk away from something you love.  I love to compete.  I love to drive race cars.  It’s financially very rewarding.  All of those things.  That’s hard to walk away from, but I’ve got a family too and I had to really consider that and as I watched my kids grow up and get older they want to get involved in their own activities.  My son is really into team sports and my daughter into horseback riding and theater and dance and those things happen on the weekends.  They might have practice during the week, but their performances and their games are on the weekends.  I couldn’t keep going week in and week out chasing my dreams and watching them do their things through text message videos and Facetime.  I just felt super guilty about it and my wife and I have talked a lot about it.  We’ve prayed about it and we just feel like now is the right time.  Like I said in my video that I put out, next year I’m gonna have a 10-year-old and a 9-year-old.  I’ve got a short window to spend as much time as I possibly can with them before they have car keys and they’re asking me what time their curfew is, and it’s gonna feel like I’m punishing them to ask them to be home and just hang out and spend time with mom and dad.  That weighed into my decision more than anything else is just that small window of opportunity that I have to be with my family while my kids are still young and they still want to be home and hang out because dad is still kind of cool right now.”


ARE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT NOT BEING AT DAYTONA TESTING AND BEING BEHIND COME THE 500?  “No.  I don’t think so.  I think it’s important to be prepared and right now with the way the industry is and limited supply of cars and chassis and parts and components and all those things I think it’s more important to be prepared for the season and our organization thinks that as well.”


WHEN DID YOU INFORM SHR OF YOUR DECISION?  “I talked to them about it over the holidays.  I talked with Brett (Frood) and Zippy and I spoke with the people at Smithfield as well and just told them that I’ve talked about it with my wife and talked about it with my family and as excited as I am about 2022 when the checkered flag flies at Phoenix that will be it for me.  I felt like it was important once I kind of came to the conclusion that this was gonna be it for me, I felt like it was important to get ahead of it with the race team and with Smithfield and with all of our corporate partners because I feel like it’s fair to them to have the longest runway possible to figure out what’s next, and to try and get their ducks in a row and try to plan accordingly.  So, I would want that same respect if I was running a race team or an organization, and so I felt like they deserved that.”


WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU?  DO YOU WANT TO STAY IN MOTORSPORTS OR NASCAR BEHIND THE SCENES?  “Yeah, I do.  I do have interest in still being involved.  I really don’t have an answer on what’s next.  I know that’s crazy and a little bit scary, but I’m not gonna sit at home in my pajamas and I’m not gonna play golf every day.  I am stepping away from full-time racing, but I’m only 38 years old  I still feel like I have a lot left to do in life and I feel like I’m still plenty young to reinvent myself.  All I’ve ever done is drive race cars.  I became a professional race car driver at 19-years-old.  I raced as a hobby before that, so I don’t have a Plan B.  I’ve never had a Plan B and I don’t know what that looks like currently, but I do have a lot of interests and a lot of different things and I feel like, again, getting out in front of it early and announcing that this is gonna be my last year of full-time racing, I feel like that’s going to present a lot of opportunity for me to have real candid conversations with different people and different organizations on what opportunities might lie ahead for me post driving and racing.  So, yeah, we’ll just have to wait-and-see, but I know that going 40 weeks a year and all the stresses and demands that come along with being a race car driver that is coming to an end for me.”


WOULD YOU CONSIDER ANY ONE-OFF OR PART-TIME SCHEDULE IN THE FUTURE?  “Yeah, I don’t want to say that I’ll never race ever again.  I’m not retiring from racing.  I’m just retiring from full-time racing and, so, yeah, if there was an opportunity to go do something here and there, I will look at the opportunity, but, I’m not interested past 2022 of ever going on a full-time schedule again.  I want to be around on the weekends.  I want to go to the baseball park with my kids and I want to have a few of my son’s buddies come over and have a sleepover and I want to be grilling out by the pool while they have a pool party or whatever.  All the things that I got to do as a kid because my parents were involved in my life.  My parents made so many sacrifices to make sure that I had an awesome childhood and I played every sport that I could possibly play.  I raced go-karts.  I did so many things.  I had so many opportunities because of my parents and my grandparents willingness to sacrifice their lives.  They had normal jobs, but they were home on the weekends and I want that for my kids.  I’ve been blessed beyond my wildest imagination to do what I’ve done over the last 11 years by Cup racing, but I’m ready to be a little bit more normal and I’m ready to be home with my family.”


IS THERE A PARTICULAR RACE OR ASPECT OF THE SPORT YOU ANTICIPATE YOU WILL MISS THE MOST?  “Yeah, I already know what that is.  I will miss strapping into the race car on pit road and the guys putting the window net up and me firing the engine up and rolling off pit road.  There’s nothing that I’ve ever experienced that is as exciting as that.  When you roll off pit road to start any race it is awesome.  You feel like you’re a gladiator getting ready to go to battle and that feeling is not gonna be easily replaced, if at all.  So, I think I will miss that – not think – I know I will miss that more than anything else, just that excitement of going out to compete and to go drive my race car against 39 of the other best stock car drivers in the world.”


IS THERE A PARTICULAR MOMENT THAT FORCED YOU TO THINK LONG AND HARD ABOUT WHAT DIRECTION YOU WERE GOING?  “No, I think it’s a compilation of multiple decisions, especially revolving around the kids.  For the last three or four years when looking at team sports for Alex, my son, and even looking at whatever hobbies my daughter has wanted to be involved in, when we looked at those we’ve had to weigh it out like, ‘What does that schedule look like?  How many games are on what weekends?  What does your practice schedule look like?’  And the reason we’ve had to look at those things is we’ve had to look and see at how it lines up with my schedule.  We’ve had to tell my son, we’ve had to say, ‘That’s fine, you can play spring baseball, but if you play spring baseball you’re probably not gonna be able to go to Bristol.  You can’t go to Talladega.’  You’re probably gonna miss these certain races that are favorites of theirs and favorites of our family, that we enjoy going to the racetrack together as a family.  Our family would sacrifice that time together because they wanted to play an activity or sport and that I was still racing, and so year after year of looking at that and trying to juggle their schedules with what they’re trying to do with my schedule, and my schedule always wins, and it has to.  It’s my job.  It’s my livelihood.  It’s the way I provide for our family, but it’s finally reached a point now to where it’s like, ‘All right, if we don’t let them start doing these things, it’s gonna be too late.’  They’re gonna be teenagers and they’re gonna be behind and they’re not gonna get those opportunities to all of a sudden start playing baseball in high school.  So, after a lot of thought and a lot of year after year of making these conscious decisions of either delaying them from doing what they want to do or doing it and then just juggling the schedule, it just feels like the right time.”


WHAT HAS THEIR REACTION BEEN?  “They’re excited.  They really are, and I think they don’t really know.  They’re still young and innocent and immature and don’t really have the world completely figured out, so they just know that by daddy retiring that means I’m gonna be home more.  It means I’m not gonna be gone every single weekend and they’re excited about that.  They’re happy to know that at the end of this year dad is gonna be around and more available.”


HAS THIS MADE YOU MORE REMINISCENT ABOUT FALLING IN LOVE WITH THE SPORT AND WHAT HAS THE TAMPA AREA MEANT TO YOU IN YOUR CAREER?  “I’ll answer the first part first.  Yes, it has made me reminiscent of just my love for the sport, my love for racing and I felt like I talked about it in the video that we put out on You Tube is that I fell in love with this sport sitting in the grandstands as a fan as I’m sure most every other race car driver did, right?  And I watched my grandfather race and he was wildly successful on a local level, and I loved it.  I loved being at the racetrack, and then I got the opportunity to get in a go-kart and feel what that felt like.  When I was sitting in the grandstands I could just dream about it and imagine how awesome it must be to drive a race car and go as fast as you possibly can, but then I got to experience it and I fell even more in love with racing and just the pureness of it as a kid is so cool.  Like, I’m doing it for a hobby.  I’m doing it because I love it and there’s no real pressure at all.  When I was go-kart racing the only goal was to do as best as I could and to learn and to get better each and every time I went back to the racetrack.  I eventually was fortunate enough to take a hobby and turn it into a profession, so, yeah, I am super grateful for what racing has meant to me and where it’s taken me in my life, both professionally and personally and, yeah, I have reminisced quite a bit about it knowing that this year will be it.”


WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ACCOMPLISHMENT TO THIS POINT?  “I think, I know this is gonna sound crazy, but I think now, really thinking about just what it takes to be a race car driver and all those things, I am most proud of the relationships that I’ve made with corporate sponsors.  Driving is one part of it and we all are really talented race car drivers.  Sure, some are more talented than others.  Would I have loved to have more success on the racetrack?  Absolutely.  I feel like I’ve done as good as I possibly can.  I’ve had great opportunities and I’m excited to go and achieve some more things in 2022 before I call it quits, but the one thing that will last far beyond me driving a race car is the relationships, the people that I’ve had impact me in my life and that I’ve had an impact in their life.  That is the thing that I’m most proud of.  I know it sounds corny and I know people kind of say that all the time about retiring that they’ll miss the people more than anything else, but, for me, it’s true.  I’ve built some incredible personal relationships with a lot of great people along my journey and I’m most happy about that.”


WHAT HAS IT MEANT TO BE ONE OF THE FIRST TO GO THROUGH THE NASCAR DIVERSITY PROGRAM AND HAVE THE KIND OF CAREER YOU’VE HAD?  “That means a lot to me.  I never really viewed it that way even from the beginning.  When I first got the opportunity to go to Joe Gibbs Racing with Reggie White and that diversity program I viewed that as an opportunity that I was very grateful for, but I never viewed myself that way.  I just viewed myself as a race car driver that just so happens to have a dad that’s from Cuba that allowed me to get that opportunity that I’m a first generation born Cuban-American, so I’ve never really thought of myself as a ‘diversity’ or ‘Cuban’ race car driver that needed to waive that flag or anything.  I’ve just viewed myself as a race car driver and I happen to have olive complexion and dark hair and dark eyes and have a blood line from Cuba.  So, yeah, I’m super happy and grateful for the opportunities that it has brought to me and I am extremely proud when I think about that of what my family has done.  I don’t feel like it’s as much about what I’ve done, it’s way more about what my family has done.  We’ve documented that a lot through one of the short story films that we did about me going back to Cuba and kind of tracing my roots when I was driving for Richard Petty Motorsports in that I am incredibly humbled to see where my family has come from.  I mean, literally hundreds of miles, not hundreds but 100 miles of dirt road out in Pinar del Rio, Cuba with nothing.  I mean, nothing nothing and to come to this country and completely start over.  They gave all of their personal possessions back to the Cuban government in the sixties and started over.  My grandparents came here with my dad and my uncle and when they arrived in Miami they got 100 bucks from the American government and a pat on the back to say good luck, and they have created a great life for themselves and for their family and that I get to reap those benefits because of what they’ve done.  So, yeah, I never view it as something I’ve done.  I view it way more as what they’ve done and just a lucky bystander.”


HOW DO YOU WANT PEOPLE LIKE US IN THE MEDIA TO REMEMBER YOU?  “Just that I’m a genuine person.  That character, and I’ve learned this from my family really, mostly, but character is really what it’s all about.  Achieving success and making your way to the top by stepping on other people or trampling other people is not nearly as rewarding, I don’t think, versus making it the right way – making it on values and character and building relationships and being genuine relationships and being who you are.  That is one thing that I’ve tried to do from day one.  I’ve never tried to get ahead of myself and I’ve never tried to think that I’m better than I really am or to think that just because I make good money and I drive a race car for a living that I am above the guy cleaning the bathroom at Darlington or the journalist writing stories or any of those things.  I’ve just always tried to be humble and tried to be genuine and I think I would much rather leave that legacy than to leave any other legacy about me as a race car driver if it meant that my character wasn’t what it was.”


HAVE EITHER OF YOUR KIDS EXPRESSED AN INTEREST IN RACING?  “Yes, they both have and, for right now, it’s just dabbling.  My son has a go-kart.  We go and practice and run around, but he hasn’t really switched it on to take it seriously.  He takes stick-and-ball sports way more seriously and he’s way more competitive at stick-and-ball sports, and then the same for my daughter.  My daughter has gone out to the go-kart track and drove and made laps, but doesn’t really express an interest in wanting to do it competitively, but you stick her up on top of a horse or you put her out on a theater stage and she just lights up and she shines and she loves it and she puts in a lot of work.  So, I think they’ve expressed interest in racing just because it’s what I do and our family that’s all they’ve ever really known to be honest, but, as they grow and they get older and they start to experience other things it’s fun to watch what really triggers their excitement.”


HOW MUCH WILL YOUR KIDS MISS BEING AT THE TRACK AND WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO HAVE YOUR KIDS SEE YOU WIN ONE MORE TIME?  “I think it would be huge for my kids to get to participate in me going to victory lane one more time, especially because they weren’t at New Hampshire last year.  We were getting ready to leave on vacation that next day when I got home from New Hampshire.  We were going to Key West, so they didn’t go, so that way Janice could have all of their bags packed up, so that was hugely disappointing for them.  Obviously, they were excited and jumping up and down on the couch that we won, but they didn’t get to be there to be a part of it.  So, I would love for them to have that opportunity to go to victory lane one more time before we hang it up.”

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