Aric A. Almirola is not only a graduate from the Hillsborough County Public School system, he is now an American professional stock car racing driver returning to the community where he grew up to deliver the message that hard work prepares you for opportunities you may only dream about right now.
Pierce Middle School was Aric’s fourth school visit with the NASCAR simulator, but the first one in his hometown. He said the fact that nearly 40 years ago his parents met while they both attended Pierce, then Junior High School, added to the nostalgia of the evening’s visit.
Aric currently competes full-time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driving the legendary No. 43 Ford Fusion, sponsored by Smithfield Foods, for Richard Petty Motorsports. Richard Petty, known as “The King” of NASCAR and known for his iconic black cowboy hat, won a record 200 wins including seven in the Daytona 500 and seven championships while driving the No.43 car.
Aric’s father, Raphael Almirola, said, “He got his start right here at this very school where his mother and I met here 40 years ago.” Aric attended Egypt Lake Elementary and graduated from Hillsborough High School. “This is home for me. You guys are my neighbors and my abuela lives right up the street from Pierce,” Aric said.
Aric's story is chronicled in the movie "Chasing 43". The movie includes interviews Aric Almirola, who won the 2014 Coke Zero 400 in the No. 43 car, 30 years to the weekend of “The King’s” fabled 200th win on the same track.
Aric spoke directly to the students at Pierce with his message of, “The decisions you make today truly can impact the rest of your life. You do not have to be the cool kid in school. I was not the cool kid. You need to find a passion for something and work hard at it.”
Aric said his family emigrated from Cuba in 1966 because they did not like the way the government was oppressing the people. “I am living the American dream where hard work and sacrifice, with a little divine intervention, can pay off in a big way,” Aric said.
Aric began racing go carts in Tampa at the age of eight. Arin’s grandfather, Sam Rodriguez, owned a body shop on Armenia Avenue in West Tampa after retiring from sprint car racing. Raphael said their racing team consisted of the Arin, his grandfather, father and anybody else who was willing to lend a hand at the time.
We did it (racing cars) for our family; “You took your kids to the baseball park, we took him to the racetrack,” said Rafael. Rafael also noted his sons education was always more important than racing and Aric often did his homework riding up and down the interstate or sometimes actually at the racetrack itself.
Aric said, “It’s so important at this age to surround yourself with people who support you, build you up and assist you in chasing your dreams.” Arin was pursuing his mechanical engineering degree from the University of Central Florida and always planned to be involved in racing in one way or another, but could not have predicted he would be a full-time driver chasing the NASCAR Cup. “I was the first driver in NASCAR’s diversity program and now here I am at the forefront of the sport,” Arin said.
“There are only 40 drivers out on the track each Sunday. I’m the driver, but there are probably 1,000 other people who touch the car in one way or another before I get in it.” Aric went on the tell students if they are a racing fan, that there are so many opportunities for a career in NASCAR, from mechanics, engineers all the way to the marketing and public relations staff. “Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t. I’m living proof that you can,” he concluded.
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