Of all the things that have impressed me about Daytona so far — the size, the atmosphere, the fans, the fun — probably the most impressive aspect of the whole shebang is the access that fans have to the teams, crews, cars, and most importantly, the drivers.
Put simply, NASCAR’s fan access is unparalleled.
After only a couple of minutes walking through the garages, pit road, etc., I could immediately tell that the access NASCAR gives its fans far exceeds any other major professional sport. Now I understand why fans identify with and root for one driver so heavily — they’ve probably had the chance to meet them, and that’s all a credit to NASCAR for understanding the role that the fan and driver relationship plays in the success of their sport. In fact, giving the fans an outlet to establish a personal connection with the drivers they support is probably one of the biggest reasons it’s the fastest growing sport in America — because the fans feel like they’re rooting for actual people and not just a sponsor.
One of the chillest drivers I had the chance of meeting was Aric Almorila, who not only has the coolest name on the tour, but by far the freshest color scheme (which he helped design, by the way.)
We had the chance to talk to Aric about everything: from $10,000 dollar hats to people forever spelling his name wrong to what he would call his dream bar.
Q: Hey Aric, how long did it take for everyone to start spelling your name right?
(Laughs) I don’t think they’re doing it yet. It’s uhhh … it’s been a while. And if they do get the first name right, there’s no chance at the last.
I get E-R-I-C still, a lot. Which is … I don’t really care. It doesn’t matter to me. As long as they know who they’re talking about.
Q: As long as it’s spelled right on the paycheck, right?
Yeah, exactly. As long as NASCAR knows how to spell it, and my sponsors, it’s all good.
Q: Has Richard Petty ever gifted you one of his famous hats?
Yes, I’ve got two of em’, actually. I’ve got a black one and a brown one.
The black one was at an eevnt that we did where we were raising money for a charitable foundation. We were both up on stage and I was doing somewhat of a ‘fly by the seat of my pants’ live-auction, and we were auctioning off the hat. It was actually on his head at that moment.
We kept getting the price up, and up, and up, and finally, as I was auctioning off I said ‘Hell, I’ll give ya $10,000 for the hat. I was just saying it thinking that the next person out there would one-up me.
And they didn’t one-up me. So, I was out $10,000 and I got another hat. I already had one hat when I first started driving for him and it was given to me, so, then I got another hat.
Q: So, Richard Petty’s hat is worth at least $10,000?
Depending on the event you go to — yes.
Q: Do you have input on the colors (of the team)?
Yeah, I actually designed all of my suits and my shoes.
Q: Do you keep a picture of your dog on your dashboard?
(Laughs) I don’t have a dog.
Q: Cat? Snake?
I don’t have a cat — we’re a pet-free family, man.
Q: What’s your favorite race to run?
Honestly, the Daytona 500 is pretty high up there. You know, I grew up in Tampa, so you know, I’ve obviously got a special connection with this place. It’s only two hours away from home in Tampa, so I’ve got friends and family and stuff that pay attention when I come to Daytona, so that’s nice.
As far as actualy race tracks, Dover is probably one of the more exciting.
Q: Why’s that?
The straightaways at Dover are maybe two stories higher than the corners, so you kind of like launch off the straightaway down into the corner. You know? So that makes it fun, makes it exciting.
The surface of the track at Dover is concrete instead of asphault, so it has more grip and it’s just faster. It’s just different. It’s fun.
But Daytona is awesome. I mean this is the Super Bowl. It’s arguably one of the biggest sporting events in the world. And it’s for sure the biggest motorsports event, you know?
Q: So, does the size and magnitude of the race make it more intense for you? Or is every race the same to you, since at this point, you’ve been doing it for so long?
I think the size of the race does ramp up the intensity, for sure. I think more than anything, this is the first race of the year. So we’ve had two months off where we’ve just been gearing up for the new season, and so, we don’t have a preseason like other sports. W don’t have spring training. You know, this is our first game, so there’s a lot of pent up energy, and a lot of excitement, and a lot of buildup to this event.
So, when you take two months of buildup and preparation and everything and you unleash it into one event — and it’s the biggest event of the year– it just makes it extremely exciting.
Q: Let’s say you seal up a big victory — what’s your go-to drink? You know, to celebrate.
Go-to drink? I’m very much a margarita drinker. From what I’ve heard from friends, family, neighbors — I’m one hell of a margarita maker too.
The problem is that I’ve gotten so good at making my margaritas that when we go out and order a margarita, we’re like (disgusted face).
Q: You ever consider retiring from racing to make margaritas full time?
You know I have considrred it. One of my lifelong dreams is to open a bar somewhere on a remote beach. I want a bar that when you walk in, there’s no floor — the floor is white sand from the beach. And then I’d have like picnic tables all set up in there, have a makeshift bar. Like a tiki hut?
Q: Well, what’s it going to be called? The name is as key as the drinks.
Yeah, I don’t know. I haven’t locked down the name yet, but I definitely have the vision for the location and the way the layout inside will be.
Q: If you didn’t spend that ten grand on that hat, it could have gone to starting up the bar.
I know, right? That’s my startup right there. There goes my startup money.
Q: Thanks Aric. Best of luck out there.