Saturday, Oct 01

Ford Performance NASCAR: Aric Almirola To Return to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2023

ARIC ALMIROLA, No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang – “I’m here to announce that I’ll be back.  I know that doesn’t come as a surprise to many of you, but I put a lot of thought and a lot of discussing it with Janice and the kids and, ultimately, the subject continued to get broached from the race team and Smithfield and through all of that dialogue, mainly with the race team and Smithfield, it was very evident that not only did they want me back, but that Smithfield wanted to increase their marketing campaign around NASCAR and around me.  So, they’ve decided to come back for a multi-year agreement, which is incredible.  The amount of support that they have given to me and my family throughout my career is humbling, so when Shane Smith called me, the CEO of Smithfield and said, ‘Hey, we really want you to reconsider retiring.  We want you to come back and drive our race car.’  It’s really hard to say no.  I did tell him, ‘Let me talk to Janice and let me think about it, let me pray about it, and we did and there was a lot of back and forth discussion.  Ultimately, it just feels right.  I told you guys down here at the beginning of the year that I was retiring and it was for a family decision and this is still very much a family decision.  Janice and the kids and I talked a lot about it and I think the person that probably has the most sacrifice involved is Janice, but the kids were ecstatic that they still get to come and be with their friends and there is a community that is involved and associated with what we do.  This year, I took the opportunity to really soak it all up and embrace this year, and I have found a renewed sense of what a work/life balance looks like this year.  I think by the time the year is over Janice and the kids will have come to about 28 races.  I think many of you might not come to 28 races, so it’s been really good for us to find that balance.  Everything has worked out to make it make sense for me to be able to continue to race with the kids’ activities.  We’ve moved some things around to where they’re doing most of their activities during the week and the school that they’re involved in now, Friday is a satellite day to where they have to work.  They work and they turn in their work on a computer, so they’re literally sitting in the bus right now as I’m sitting here talking to you trying to finish up their school work.  Our family dynamic has changed.  Things have changed and it just feels right.  It feels like a blessing and a wonderful opportunity to continue to do what I love to do, and I think I made that very clear when I announced that I was gonna retire that I wasn’t retiring because I didn’t enjoy racing anymore, I was retiring because I was willing to make a sacrifice for my family because, ultimately, my family is the most important thing to me.  Winning races and making money and all of those things, I was willing to make that sacrifice to make sure I was being the husband I needed to be and the father I needed to be, and through this year Janice and I just found a wonderful balance to where I still can be the husband that I want to be and the father that I want to be and we did some really cool stuff this year.  I forgot just what a wonderful opportunity it is to be a race car driver.  Not only do I get to do what I love to do, but we get to travel around the country and go to all sorts of different cities, so we took that opportunity this year.  We went to the Arch in St. Louis.  We went to the stadium where the Cardinals play.  We’ve been to baseball games in Philly when we went to Pocono.  We went to a Tigers game when they were playing the Tampa Bay races when we were in Detroit for the Michigan race.  We’ve taken family road trips between Phoenix and Vegas.  We went to Zion and hiked and we’ve just really taken this year to kind of embrace it and soak it all up and I think as a family we’re not ready for it to end yet.”

 

HOW MUCH OF A MINDSET CHANGE IS THIS NOW?  “Honestly, not much of a mindset change because I’ve been so focused on competition.  I think my commitment and my effort to performing at the highest level has never changed, and so I think the biggest thing for me is just looking ahead into the off-season, where I was like, ‘All right, once we get to the off-season I’ll be able to catch my breath and we’ll figure out whatever is next.’  I don’t for right now have to figure out whatever is next.  I know what’s next.  I’m gonna continue to drive a race car.  I’m looking forward to it and I’m excited about it, but you have to remember I’ve been doing this for a long time.  I’m going into my 12th season next year.  It’s pretty routine, so from a mindset standpoint nothing really changes.”

 

SMITHFIELD HAS SIGNED FOR MULTIPLE YEARS.  WHAT ABOUT YOU?  DOES YOUR DEAL COINCIDE WITH THEIRS?  “You’ll have to continue to ask me about it later on next year.  I don’t know.  For right now, that’s the plan.  For right now, they’ve agreed to come back for a multi-year agreement.  They’ve increased their investment in this sport and in the race team, back to the levels they were at in 2018-2019.  That was one thing that really hit home for me was when I talked to Shane.  He came down here to the Daytona 500 this year and that was his first race in many, many, many years.  He grew up in North Carolina and was a fan of this sport way back when, and he’s been running the European operations for Smithfield for the last 10 years or so.  He has now been promoted to CEO and he came to the Daytona 500 and was blown away when he walked around and just seeing the level of excitement, the enthusiasm for this sport, the sold-out grandstands, the viewership, just everything that he’s seen with this sport and just walking around and seeing the people that are here – all of the campers that are here throughout the infield, everybody tailgating and cooking out.  Shane just said, ‘These are our people.  These are our customers.  We’ve been marketing to them and telling them a story and trying to get support for our brand from this core group of people for 11 years.  We’re heavily invested in this market and we want to continue to be.’  He saw it first hand when he was here that the NASCAR fans are so brand loyal to the corporate sponsors that are involved in the sport.  He knows and he feels very confident that their participation in this sport and sponsoring a race car and being involved gives them the opportunity to talk directly to their customer, and so when these fans that camp out, sit in the stands, tune in to watch on TV, when they go to the grocery store and they have a choice to make in the meat aisle, we all hope that they will go and pick up the Smithfield brand of meat to take it home to cook it or to bring it to the racetrack to grill out and cook out and we have a lot of data that kind of backs that up and supports it as well.”

 

HOW LONG DID YOU TAKE ON THE DECISION TO COME BACK?  “It was a few weeks, to be honest, and there was a lot of talking back and forth like, ‘What does the sponsorship look like?  Are they going to scale back?  Are the going to stay flat or are they going to increase their level of investment and what does that look like and what does that look like for me?  Are they gonna sponsor half of the year and do we have to find a sponsor for the other half of the year?’  All of those things played a key role in trying to iron out all the details.  The first question was, ‘Would you reconsider?’  So I said, ‘Let me think about it.  Let me talk to Janice.  Let me pray about it.’  And then after about a week of having those discussions it was like, ‘Yes, I will reconsider, but x, y and z.  What’s the answer to this?  What’s the answer to this?’  And we worked through that for probably the next month to six weeks.  I know it got put out last week that it was happening, but as of last week it still wasn’t done.  There was still some things that needed to be ironed out in the details and so, to be fully transparent with all of you guys, it was done this week.  We actually all came to agreement on all of the terms as of this week and that’s why we’ve announced it today.”

HOW DID THE KIDS REACT?  “Both of the kids were elated.  Abby said, ‘Does that mean we have to wait to get a horse?’  And I said, ‘Yes.’  But Alex and Abby were both very excited to still continue to be here.  I think that’s one of the things you have to realize.  Alex came to his first race when he was one month old.  He was born on September 4th and he came to his first race at Talladega in October.  He was one month old.  Abby was born on Thanksgiving Day in 2013.  Her first race was the Daytona 500 and she was three months old, so our kids don’t know any different.  They don’t know really what life looks like away from the racetrack and so they had a little bit of uncertainty as well.  It was like, ‘What does that mean when dad is retired.’  Other than I’m gonna be home a lot more, what does that mean?  What does that look like?  Does that me we won’t get to see any of our friends anymore at the racetrack because we come to a large majority of the races and we have a community center.  We have the MRO community center and our kids spend a lot of time at that community center with a lot of the other driver’s kids as well, so that’s their friendship group.  They have their friends at school and then they come to the racetrack on the weekends and they have their friends at the racetrack, so they were nervous about what it looked like once we were done racing.  Would we never get to see our friends again that were at the racetrack, so they were happy to find out they were gonna get to keep coming.”

 

WAS SMITHFIELD THE TIPPING POINT IN THIS DECISION?  “Absolutely, and I think that’s one thing, for me, that has been just a huge blessing personally and professionally.  Smithfield has been the primary sponsor on my race car my entire Cup career and so to continue to have their support and their backing is just an awesome feeling to be their guy and to be wanted.  I truly feel like I am part of the Smithfield family and you have to remember that I’ve been part of Smithfield for 11 years.  In that 11 years they’ve been through four CEOs.  We’ve been through multiple different marketing executives and executives throughout the entire executive level office, so I feel very engrained there and I feel like I’ve done my part as an ambassador for their brand to build relationships, not only with the key people, but the entire organization because as things move and shuffle and change inside their organization, it’s still never wavered in their support of this sport and of me.”

 

CAN YOU TAKE THE LESSON OF THIS FORWARD TO MAKE NEXT YEAR EVEN BETTER?  “I think those are lessons that I’ll keep with me for the rest of my life.  I’m a very, very highly competitive person and when I came into this sport it was just me.  I just had myself to worry about and then I met Janice and Janice and I dated for a while and then once we got married it was like, ‘Oh, boy.  I’m now responsible for you as well,’ and then we had kids and it was like, ‘Oh no, now I’m responsible for two more mouths to feed.’  I always tried to separate home and work, and I felt like to be the best that I needed to be, I needed to be all in on racing.  It takes that level of commitment to be really successful at the highest level of any profession, you have to be all in and committed.  I found myself for many years putting my family second or actually third often and everything else revolved around racing, the sponsors, all the commitments that came with racing, and I tried to fit in family time when I could.  I feel like over the last few years I’ve done a lot better job at that, but as I approached retirement it was like, ‘Man, I want to make sure that we do this together, that we go out holding hands as a family.’  We really soak it all up.  We embrace it.  We cherish this opportunity because when my kids were younger it was easy.  They weren’t gonna remember, but now Alex almost being 10, Abby almost being 9, that changes things.  They’re gonna remember this time in their life forever, so I wanted to make sure that it was done and we did it right on the way out.  Yeah, I think for the rest of my life I’ll take those lessons learned and make sure that I don’t sacrifice being a great husband and being a great dad at the expense of being a professional and vice versa.  I don’t want to sacrifice being a great professional at the expense of being a poor dad or poor husband or absent one.”

 

WAS SMITHFIELD AN IMPORTANT PART IN YOUR ORIGINAL DECISION?  THERE WAS TALK THEY MAY NOT EVEN BE COMING BACK, SO DID YOU NOT WANT TO POTENTIALLY START OVER WITH A NEW SPONSOR AND FIGURE YOU AND SMITHFIELD WOULD GO OUT TOGETHER?  “Absolutely.  That’s a fair question.  I think that was very much a factor that was weighed in was, where are they at?  They were going through a transition period as well from the current CEO to a new CEO.  They weren’t really sure.  Shane was just coming in and was trying to get his bearings and from my standpoint I had reached a point to where Alex was still trying to go-kart race on the weekends occasionally.  We were playing flag football on Saturdays.  I was watching go-kart races on Facetime videos.  I was watching flag football games on Facetime videos.  I was watching Abby horseback ride on Facetime videos and I was sitting at the track in my motorhome, so you take those things, you weigh them out and I was like, ‘Man, what am I doing?  Do I really want to continue the grind?  Do I want to continue being gone from my family 40 weeks a year and hustling to find sponsorship money and trying to put all of this effort and focus into studying SMT data and constantly going here, going there for sponsors and doing media requests?  All these things you have to do and I’m not complaining about it because I have the coolest job in the world, and I’ve signed up for it and I’ve loved every minute of it, but it is a grind.  I’m telling you, it is long, it is a long year, it is a lot of work, so I just found myself at times going like, ‘What am I doing?’  And things changed for us.  We got our kids into a school where Fridays are satellite days so they could travel with me.  Alex, on his own, decided that he wanted to play baseball so we signed up for a baseball league where his games are on Tuesdays and Thursday nights.  I haven’t missed a single baseball game.  Our circumstances in our life changed to where it just made more sense to be able to stay out here on the road and continue to do what I love to do and my family still be a part of it.”

 

DOES ALEX HAVE ANY INTEREST IN RACING?  “If he was sitting here right next to me he would say yes, and I think he does, but we’ve kind of pumped the brakes on that for right now.  He’s really, really into baseball and it’s been so fun for me.  I played baseball up to high school and growing up in Florida, a little Hispanic community, every Hispanic kid in Florida plays baseball year round and so did I.  I predominantly played baseball and raced as well when I could, and as I got older racing became more important than baseball, but, for me, as his father, I have so much fun going out in the yard and throwing the baseball with him and going to baseball practice.  I’m actually the assistant coach on the baseball team and it’s just been so much fun to be out there on the field with the kids.  Mom and dad are still pushing baseball pretty heavy, plus it’s way, way cheaper.  We can play baseball for a whole year for what it costs for a set of tires.”

 

WILL DREW STAY THE COURSE WITH YOU?  “Yeah, I think Drew will stay the course with me.  I don’t want to speak for the race team and speak for Zippy, but as far as I know Drew will stay with me.  Drew has been a wonderful addition to the race team.  He is such a great team leader and the guys on the team love him.  I really enjoy working with him.  It’s been a lot of fun working with Drew this year, so I think, as far as I know, that’s the plan.  It would be news to me if it wasn’t.”

 

WHAT ROLE DID THE ACCIDENT AT KANSAS IN 2017 PLAY IN YOUR DECISION TO ORIGINALLY RETIRE?  “Every time we strap into a race car there’s always a risk involved, but I’ve known that since I was a kid.  There’s a risk when you get in a go-kart.  There’s a risk involved when I modified raced through late model racing, so I’ve always known that and that’s the risk that I’ve always been willing to take because I love to race so much.  The adrenaline rush for me and the thrill of competition has always outweighed the risk factor and that still remains the same for me.  Obviously, when you do get older you have more people depending on you.  Now I have a wife that depends on me.  I have two kids that depend on me, so circumstances certainly change over the years, but, for me, I still accept those risks as a race car driver and want to go out and perform and compete.  That thrill always just outweighs the risk.”

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