Homestead-Miami Speedway and the Homestead Air Reserve Base joined recently to host a series of Air Force exercises at the Homestead Air Reserve Base, located in the Speedway’s backyard, with Aric Almirola, as part of NASCAR’s “Chase Across North America.”
Almirola, driver of the No. 43 Smithfield Foods-U.S. Air Force Ford Fusion for Richard Petty Motorsports, worked with the crew chief of an F-16 fighter jet to prep and launch the jet, in addition to assisting the Homestead Air Reserve Fire Team to extinguish a simulated fire on a jet, with flames as tall as 50 feet.
Almirola grew up in Tampa and was born at the Eglin Air Force Base in Fort Walton Beach, located in the Florida panhandle, while his father, Ralph, served in the Air Force. The Air Force has been an associate sponsor of the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports team for six consecutive seasons, and was the primary car sponsor for the Fourth of July race weekend at Daytona, where Almirola captured his first checkered flag in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
“It’s been really exciting to be here at the Homestead Air Reserve Base,” Almirola said. “I’ve gotten to do so many cool things today. Fight a fire, be a co-crew chief on an F-16 and stand 15 feet away from an F-16 at takeoff. It was amazing.
“I’ve got a pretty strong connection to the Air Force. My dad was in the Air Force and I was born on Eglin Air Force Base in Panama City, so it’s always fun to come back to the Air Force Base and see the men and women who serve.”
Almirola qualified for the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup after winning the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 6 under the new qualifying format. The win was his first of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career, and came on the 30th anniversary of Richard Petty’s 300th Cup win in the No. 43 car. Almirola became the first Cup driver other than Petty to win in the legendary No. 43 at Daytona, and also became the first driver of Cuban-American descent to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
Under a new format for this year, the four remaining drivers in the Chase will compete among a full 43-car field for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship at the Ford EcBoost 400 on Nov. 16 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“Anytime you get the opportunity to run for the championship, it’s special,” Almirola said. “I feel like I’m certainly in an elite group. I’m one of 16 guys in the Sprint Cup Series who gets to go run for a championship. So that in itself is special.”