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The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Aric Almirola of Stewart-Haas Racing. These interviews are recorded as a podcast but also transcribed for those who prefer to read.
1. Are you an iPhone person or an Android person, and why?
iPhone. Simply because from the very beginning, I had an iPod and I liked it, so then I got the iPhone because I already had an iTunes account so I could have the music on my iPhone. And then once you have an iPhone, you’re kind of stuck.
Like once you go down that path, I’ve switched everything. I’ve got Apple iPad for the plane, I’ve got a Mac at home. It just makes everything a lot easier.
2. If a fan meets you in the garage, they might only have a brief moment with you. So between an autograph, a selfie or quick comment, what is your advice on the best way to maximize that interaction?
It’s tricky because there are different times throughout the year and different days of the weekend that the drivers are a little bit less stressed and a little bit less in a hurry to get to wherever they’re going. If you find them in that moment, the driver will most likely chat you up, will sign an autograph for you, will take the time to take a picture for you.
But then if you catch a driver walking out to his car for qualifying or you catch him walking out to the car for pre-race or anything like that, that guy is intensely focused in that moment. Like you’d never ever get access to Tom Brady walking out the tunnel to go onto the field to warm up, or walking out on the field to get ready to play a game. You would never get access to a basketball player walking out. And that’s the access that we get here in NASCAR.
And I love it. I do. I love our fans and I love interacting with them, and you catch us at the right time and the right place, we’ll spend a lot of time with you. But if you catch us in that moment to where we’re ultra-focused and ready to go 200 miles an hour inches apart from other drivers, we’re going be a little more zoned out. And when we’re zoned out, we obviously don’t pay a lot of attention to our surroundings.
That’s not just (toward) the fans, it’s that way with everybody. You kind of just get this tunnel vision of thinking about what you are getting ready to do and being prepared for qualifying or the race or whatever it is. So that’s a tough question to just answer directly.
Obviously if we’re sitting at an autograph appearance for an hour or two, come on (over). You can get an autograph, you can get a picture, we’ll chat with you, we’re there for whatever time we’re slotted to be there. And usually I stick around even longer to make sure we take care of everybody. So it depends on the timing.
3. When someone pulls a jerk move on the road when you’re driving down the highway, does that feeling compare at all to when someone pulls a jerk move on the track?
Yes. Absolutely. The only difference is on the racetrack, you can actually run up there and run into the back of them — and on the road, that’s frowned upon.
4. Has there ever been a time where you’ve had a sketchy situation with your safety equipment?
One time a couple years ago, my steering wheel rubbed my seatbelts and turned the camlock on my seatbelts and it actually made my seatbelts come undone. I know a few other drivers who that has happened to as well. So yeah, that is pretty scary when that happens.
Was that during a race?
Yes. So you kind of check up and slow down and wait for the caution to come, or on the straightaways you’re trying to drive with your legs and people probably think you’re drunk out there on the racetrack — but you’re trying to focus on what you have going on to get your seatbelts in.
It hasn’t happened in a long time. The seatbelts and the locking mechanisms and all that have gotten a lot better. But years ago, and when the camlock system first came out, that was certainly more of an issue.
5. If your crew chief put a super secret illegal part on your car that made it way faster, would you want to know about it?
I would not. No. I would not want to know. I want to describe what the race car is doing and tell the crew chief and the engineers what is happening from my vantage point as a driver, and then I want them to go to work and fix that. I’ve never really been in the details of what springs are on the car, what shocks are on the car, how much wedge do we have in the car, all of those things.
I know what all those things do, and I can voice my opinion, but the sport has evolved so much. The setups are so much different than anything that I’ve learned and knew growing up. So much more goes into it from the engineering and the computer side of it that the old school mentality is not really relevant.
So I’ve always been that way to where I show up, drive, tell them what’s going on with the car, and they handle the car and it’s their job to figure out how to make the car go as fast as it can. That’s not my role.
6. What is a food you would not recommend eating right before a race and are you speaking with personal experience with this recommendation?
So I think it’d probably be a bad idea to consume a lot of dairy right before a race. I think that’s a really bad idea just because dairy sits so heavy and then you get hot in the car — like really hot — and I just think that’s a terrible combination.
7. Is there life in outer space, and if so, do they race?
You said these questions were out there. You were not kidding.
I don’t know. I don’t believe there is life in outer space. Maybe there is, but I would have to be proven wrong on that one. So the answer to the other part of the question is…
They can’t race if there’s no life.
8. What do drivers talk about when they’re standing around at driver intros before a race?
It depends on what two drivers are talking or what group of drivers is talking. Usually for myself, I go up there and I’m kind of zoned in and ready to go race and everybody up there is a frenemy. I’m really just kind of focused on getting ready to race.
If you see somebody or whatever, you’re like, “Hey man, how’s it going? How’s your car?” And I think that’s most of the conversation, at least what I see and I think.
Most of the people exchange pleasantries. You’re getting ready to go race against this guy for the next four hours and you want to crush them. So you’re not a jerk, but you’re not overly friendly, either. You’re just ready to go racing, ready to go compete.
And then there’s the guys like (Clint) Bowyer, some of the other guys, they’re up there just having a jolly good ol’ time, laughing it up, just really laid back and relaxed, and they’re just getting ready to get the party started.
9. What makes you happy right now?
There’s a lot, actually. I find a lot of happiness right now with my family. I’m really fortunate I’ve got a great family — my wife (Janice), 6-year-old son (Alex), 5-year-old daughter (Abby), they’re so much fun to be around right now and watch them grow and get bigger and watching them start to branch out into doing their own things.
For the first several years of their life, everything kind of revolved around me still. The things that revolved around them were making sure they were fed and their diapers were changed. But as they grow up and get older, my son’s now playing basketball and playing baseball and riding BMX bikes and my daughter’s doing gymnastics and she’s doing theater and things like that. So that kind of stuff, it’s just fun as a dad to see that stuff, so that’s been making me happy.
And then just being around my team and being at the racetrack and racing and competing. I’ve been finding a lot of happiness in this past year and going into the new season just because of how competitive we are, and showing up to the racetrack is fun. Every weekend that we show up at the track is like, “Hey this is a new weekend, new opportunity, we can go win.” And that makes it fun. This last year just really rejuvenated me as a race car driver and it made going to work fun again, and I’ve found a lot of happiness in it.
10. Let’s say a sponsor comes to you and says, “We are going to fully fund the entire rest of your racing career on the condition that you wear a clown nose and an 80’s rocker wig in every interview you do forever.” Would you accept that offer?
Wow, that was easy.
At the end of the day, that’s a small price to pay to get to do what you love to do and have somebody else pay for it, right? When you think about that, I have one of the coolest jobs in the world. I get to do what I’ve dreamed about doing since I was 8 years old, and I get paid really well to do it, and I do it at the very highest level. So yeah, if the sponsor wants me to wear a clown nose and an 80’s wig in an interview, then yeah, whatever. Let’s do it.
11. This is the 10th year of the 12 Questions. There has never been a repeat question until now. Pick a number between 1 and 100, and I’m going to pull up a random question from a past year’s series.
Can we just go with like 10 since that’s my car number?
I anticipated that. Joey Logano tipped me off that people would be using their car number, so I pulled that up had you asked that.
What if I said like 76?
I wouldn’t have that ready, but I could pull it up.
But 10 you have ready.
So this is the 10th question from the first 12 questions in 2010. If a rookie asks you one driver they should learn from and one driver they should avoid learning from, who would those two people be?
I think if you have the opportunity to learn from Kevin Harvick, I’ve had my eyes opened up this past year to be in meetings with him and be around him and see his dedication and see the work ethic he puts in. And it’s kind of quiet. He doesn’t blast it out to everyone on social and all that stuff, but he puts a lot of work it, and he’s really detail-oriented.
So I think him or Jimmie Johnson. Jimmie Johnson, from the aspect of not only has he been so successful, but he’s so gracious about it at the same time. He’s a seven-time champion and yet he’s one of the most humble people you’ll meet, and so I would tell any rookie driver to look at that. Just because you’ve had success and just because you win races, you might climb the ladder of our sport, it doesn’t mean that you should have an ego, and it doesn’t mean that you should treat people like crap. (Johnson is) a guy, out of all people, who could have an ego — won tons of races, won seven championships. And he’s confident in himself, but he’s very humble and a gracious guy, so that’s pretty cool.
And then one who you would not learn from. I’m not going to single any one guy out, but the list is pretty long of guys that have come into our sport, don’t do the right things with the sponsors and their partners, don’t do the right things on the racetrack, they tear up a lot of equipment, and they put a lot of pressure on themselves and they end up driving over their head — and then what happens is they come and go out of the sport.
And so for a rookie driver, I think it’s really important to look at that and see, “Hey, there are the mistakes this guy made and you don’t want to do that.” If you want to be here for a length of time, you want to make sure you take care of your partners and your sponsors and are a good representation for them, and you don’t show up thinking that you’re going to win every race and try way too hard and end up putting yourself in bad positions and tearing up a bunch of equipment.
12. The last interview was with Kyle Larson. He said he ran into you at Volusia and you introduced him to your grandfather (Sam Rodriguez) who raced sprint cars and of course that caught Kyle’s attention. So he wants to ask you, do you have any memories of watching your grandfather race at all, and if so, what sticks out?
So I have a lot of memories of watching my grandfather race. I watched my grandfather race all the way until I was 8 years old when he retired and then bought me a go-kart and then I started racing.
The memories that stick out the most to me was, I would say 50% of the time we went to the racetrack, he won. So my favorite part about going to the racetrack was when the race was over, he would stop on the front straightaway and take a picture with the crowd. They would actually let the crowd come onto the racetrack, so I would stand with him for a picture of just us and the crew, and then they would let fans come out and take a picture with the feature winner.
Then the fans would go back in the stands and he would put me in the seat of his sprint car and he would ride on the left side nerf bar and he would let me drive the sprint car — with the engine not running; we were getting pushed on a four-wheeler. But he would let me drive the sprint car, standing up in the seat, back to the tech barn after the race was over for tech. So those were really cool days and that’s what made me so passionate about racing.
Do you have the question I can ask the next driver? It’s William Byron.
Yes, so his bus is actually parked right next to me, and so the few times that they have pumped him out this week, it stinks really bad. So I guess my question would be, has anybody told him that his poop stinks?
That’s something only you would know living here in this motorhome lot.
No, you want a real question? And I think a great question for William would be, coming into this sport at such a young age and with such high expectations and stuff, what does he enjoy doing to sort of get away from all of the hysteria of NASCAR and the pressure of being counted on at Hendrick Motorsports?
Previous 12 Questions interviews with Aric Almirola:
— Oct. 3, 2012
— Aug. 20, 2013
— July 21, 2015
— Aug. 16, 2016
— Sept. 6, 2017
— July 3, 2018