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Ask Aric Almirola: What teacher made a big impact on your life?

In honor of teacher appreciation week, we asked Tampa’s NASCAR driver about an important teacher in his past.
NASCAR Cup Series driver Aric Almirola, center, talks with crew members before the final round of qualifying for a NASCAR Cup Series auto race, Saturday, April 27, 2019, at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Ala.
Published May 8
Updated May 8

A few weeks ago, Tampa’s Aric Almirola told us about his time at UCF and how it affected his career in NASCAR’s top series.

In honor of teacher appreciation week, we’re taking a similar route for this week’s Ask Aric, the Tampa Bay Times’ periodic feature. Instead of asking him about last weekend’s rain delay, Saturday night’s Digital Ally 400 or his 11th-place standing in points, we went back to school.

In honor of national teacher appreciation week, who was your favorite teacher growing up, and why?

Wow, so you’re really putting me on the spot here…especially knowing that the majority of the teachers that I had probably still read the Tampa Bay Times. So I’m probably going to offend some here, but…

Obviously a lot of teachers are very influential in your life, just guiding you and helping you to realize your potential. But one teacher in particular that I feel like helped me to basically become who I was as an engineering mind, and I think really helped propel me in my racing career, was my honors physics teacher at Hillsborough High School, Mr. Zale. Hopefully he reads this.

RELATED: Ask Aric Almirola: What’s your favorite memory as a UCF student?

He probably doesn’t even realize this, but he was very, very influential in my way of thinking about race cars. When I started taking honors physics at Hillsborough High with Mr. Zale, that was the first time that I realized in his class that I could take what I was learning and apply it to racing. For years, I had been going to school, and I would sit through classes and go, “Yup, I’m going to memorize this so I can get a good grade on a test, but I’m never going to use it again.”

When I took honors physics in Mr. Zale’s class, that was eye-opening for me, when I could sit there and literally work on an equation and problem solve something that I could directly relate to figuring out that same equation and making something work or make sense on a race car.

So I really took that class extremely seriously, and that class in particular is what made me want to become an engineer, made me want to study more about physics and things in motion and then onto statics and things that need to be structurally sound. All of those things really made a difference and a major impact on my racing career and for me to get to where I am today…

Every teacher I’ve ever had had an impact in nurturing me and turning me into the person I am today, but Mr. Zale’s class in particular at Hillsborough High was a class that, finally the light bulb went off for me. Yes, I get it. I understand why I’m learning it, and I can apply this.

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