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Before Daytona 500, NASCAR driver Aric Almirola makes pit stop at Pierce Middle School

February 16, 2018 - Points of Pride

NASCAR driver Aric Almirola is used to going pretty fast, so he didn’t waste any time delivering an important message at Pierce Middle School on Feb. 13.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without my education,” he told students assembled in the gym. School taught him the value of accountability, of problem solving, and hard work.

An auto shop teacher tapped into his interest in racing. Math and science teachers inspired him because both fields are essential to doing his job well. English teachers were important because in his job sometimes he has to represent his corporate sponsors – so when he shows up an event sponsored by a meat producer he can make clever product-placement jokes.

“You know how much the winner of the Daytona 500 makes?” the Smithfield-sponsored driver asked students. “$1.4 million … that’s a lot of bacon.”

Almirola graduated from Hillsborough High School and while his abuela lived near Pierce, he was never an Archer. Still, he returned to the school for a second-straight year to promote the importance of doing well.

A D in English class once put him back in the pits for a quarter until he improved his grades: “I couldn’t race for nine weeks.”

Lesson learned.

At the event, Almirola took questions from Pierce and Alexander Elementary School students.

What’s the fastest you’ve ever gone? 221 miles per hour.

What’s your favorite car? A Ford GT.

When did you first start racing? On go-carts at age 8.

Did you play any sports? Basketball, baseball and track before focusing full time on racing midway through high school.

Almirola also raced school leaders and students on tricycles (with a year’s supply of bacon to the winner!) and signed autographs for all in attendance before heading across the state for Race 1 of the grueling nine-month NASCAR season behind the wheel of the No. 10 car. While he has won at Daytona, he has not yet won the signature race.

Sitting within arm’s reach of the 500 trophy, he told students that hopefully all that will change on Sunday. UPDATE: He came close, as Almirola led on the final lap before being bumped into the wall by race winner Austin Dillon.

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