Our series of weekly NASCAR driver interviews continues this week with Aric Almirola, who drives Richard Petty Motorsports' famed No. 43 car in his first full Sprint Cup Series season. Almirola is 22nd in the point standings with two top-10 finishes and a pole this year.
SBN: What percent of the races in your career do you remember?
AA: What percent? Hell, probably 100 percent. I honestly can remember all the way back to my very first go-kart race in Lakeland, Fla. when I was 8 years old. I might not remember all of them, but I'd say I can remember 95 percent of the races.
SBN: Most drivers have had a much lower number. You must have a pretty good memory.
AA: Yeah, I don't know. I can sit here and off the top of my head remember a lot of Late Model races I've run. There's not many I don't remember.
SBN: What was the first win you ever got in any form of racing?
AA: Go-karts, that first year I started. I was racing Purple Plate in Lakeland, maybe Blue Plate.
SBN: Is that the division?
AA: Yeah, it's the age group or whatever. I won my first race there at Lakeland Kartway in 1992.
SBN: Did you do anything cool to celebrate?
AA: Well, I was 8 years old, so we might have gone to Steak 'n Shake to get a chocolate shake afterward. But that's about it.
SBN: Who is a clean driver in NASCAR you really enjoy racing with?
AA: I'd say Tony Stewart. Out of anybody that's still out there, even including Mark Martin, Tony is still kind of the old-school racer where if somebody catches him, you'd see him pull over and let them go. Tony still races a lot like that and he kind of demands that same respect back. So I'd say he races with a lot of class and a lot of respect.
SBN: On the opposite site of that, is there anyone who always seems to race you extra hard or never gives you a break?
AA: To be honest with you – and I know this is going to be so generic and not what you want, because you want me to call somebody out right here – the competition is so tough right now and everybody knows track position is so important, I'd say just about everybody out there is incredibly hard to pass. Everybody races really hard from the drop of the green flag. There's not much riding going on anymore. It's balls to the wall, right from the get-go.
SBN: How would you describe your personal code of conduct on the track?
AA: The majority of the tracks we go to now, people get so aero-tight behind you, you really can't afford to give up track position. If you let one guy go, you run behind them for 10 laps and you're tight for 10 laps, and the next thing you know, the next guy has caught you.
You don't just want to start letting people go one after another because your car handles worse behind others, so you do everything you can to try and stay in front of most people and keep better air on your car.
SBN: Do you have a mental list of people who have wronged you for on-track payback purposes?
AA: Yeah, absolutely. I don't know that it's necessarily a list of like, "Hey, I'm going to pay you back" – but I guess it goes back to that memory thing. I can remember most every race I've ever run, so I can remember most every person that's ever wronged me on the racetrack.
I definitely don't cut them any slack on the racetrack, and if I get to them and I'm better than them, I probably won't show them as much courtesy as I would to others – because they didn't show me much courtesy before. So you just kind of keep a mental note of how they race you, and you kind of race them the same way.
SBN: If you could turn back time and be on the same team with someone who no longer drives, who would you pick?
AA: Hell, they didn't have any information back then you could look at. They didn't have any data. But if they did have data back then, you'd have to say Richard Petty. The guy won seven championships and 200 races, so how could you not want to see what they were doing and how they won so much? Obviously I race for him now, but to race with him and to see what they had going on would be cool.
They obviously had a clear advantage; obviously, the driver was extremely talented, but a lot of people don't give (Hall of Fame crew chief) Dale Inman as much credit as he probably deserves. It was a whole team effort.
SBN: When is the last time you got nervous about anything?
AA: Three weeks ago, when my wife (Janice) was pushing out a kid. Watching my son (Alex) be born, you want everything to go perfect, you want everything to go smoothly, you don't want anything to mess up or to have him come out with three fingers. You're just praying for everything to be perfect, and sure enough, he came out and he's perfect.
You worry all the way up until he comes out and, hell, now that he's out, you still worry. You lay in bed at night and he cries every two hours, so if he goes three or four hours and he doesn't want to eat, you wake up and make sure he's still breathing and you put your finger in front of his nose. I still worry about that more than I worry about anything else.
SBN: You guys meet a ton of fans, and sometimes they can ask uncomfortable or awkward questions. Do you have any recent stories along those lines?
AA: No, not really. I've been asked random things before, but nothing has ever made me uncomfortable. I'm a pretty loose guy, so it would take a lot to make me uncomfortable.
The most common silly question is they always ask, "What do you do when you have to use the restroom? What do you do when you gotta pee and you're in a car for four hours?" Then you answer that and they're like, "What if you gotta go number two?" I say, "Go back and watch Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen a couple years ago (when Stewart crapped himself)."
SBN: If you had to choose one of these jobs when you retire, would you rather be a NASCAR broadcaster or a high-ranking NASCAR official like a Robin Pemberton or John Darby?
AA: I think I'd rather be on the officials' side. The broadcasting, that looks neat, but I don't know if that would be as much fun for me as being an official and knowing what's going on in the garage area and having more of a relationship with the people in the garage area. I think that's the one thing I enjoy most outside of driving the race car, is the relationships you make with the people. So I think that would be fun.
SBN: What's a question you get asked a lot that you're tired of answering?
AA: "How's it feel to drive for Richard Petty?" I answer that one a lot. You know, the answer is always the same: It really is an honor to drive that 43 car. A lot of people want to know your thought process behind that, but the reality is when I get in that car, I just see out the windshield. I don't see what number it is. It means a lot to me, but at the same time, it's like I can't worry about that. I just have to worry about going out there and driving the race car.
SBN: I've been asking each driver a question for the next guy, and last week's interview was Cale Gale. He wanted to know, "What would you be doing if you weren't a race car driver?"
AA: Is that really the one you're giving me?
SBN: Hey, I have to go with what they ask.
AA: Oh, gosh. What would I be doing if I wasn't a race car driver? I really have no Plan 'B.' From the time I dropped out of college, this has really been Plan 'A.' I grew up working in my grandfather's auto body shop, so I'd do something with cars. I'm fascinated with cars. I went to school to become a mechanical engineer and I quit to go racing, but I've always enjoyed working on cars.
SBN: And finally, can you help me out with a question for the next guy?
AA: I don't want to ask the standard, silly questions. Let me think about that. (Thinks for awhile)
So in every sport, when people start at a young age, there's no money involved and it's just purely for the love of the game. When you collect your first paycheck, it's really cool – and as you start to collect more and more paychecks, it becomes more of a job.
You can read autobiographies of every single person who has been successful in their sport and, at some point, it just becomes a job. It becomes a whole lot less fun then. So I would ask the next driver at what point it became a job for them and if they're still having fun today.
Next week: Tony Stewart answers Aric Almirola's question and 11 more