Tampa’s Aric Almirola got to experience one of the perks of being a NASCAR driver this week when he and his son visited the Lions’ facility in advance of the series’ stop at Michigan next month.
It was just the latest fun perk for Almirola, the Hillsborough High alumnus who’s 11th in points entering Saturday’s all-star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
It also got us thinking about other cool things that come with his job, which leads to this week’s installment of Ask Aric —a periodic feature where the driver of the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford shares his thoughts on racing, the season and his hometown.
What’s the coolest perk, trip or thing you’ve gotten to do because of your status as a professional athlete?
First, let me state that I’ve gotten to do a lot of cool things. That is one of the very cool perks of being a professional athlete, is that you get granted access to really cool things — opportunities to go and meet people, or events, or take part in some really unique and really cool activities.
By far, one of the coolest things that I’ve gotten to do because of being who I am is I got to fly in the back of an F-16 at Luke Air Force Base about five, six years ago. During my flight, we took off and went straight up to 10,000 feet like you see in the movies. The pilot turned it straight vertical. We went straight up 10,000 feet and then went out over the desert in Arizona and flew around.
For probably 5-10 minutes of the flight, the pilot turned over the controls to me in the backseat. I got to do barrel rolls and fly the plane upside down and all kinds of stuff. That was really cool. How many people get to say that they flew an F-16 fighter jet? I got to do that.
Because of that, I built a long-lasting relationship with the pilot that gave me that flight. His name was Blade Adam Thornton. We’ve remained friends, through his deployments. We’ve stayed in contact through emails and sort of pen palling back and forth. So that was a really, really cool experience and really just a thrill of a lifetime.
We broke the speed of sound. We pulled over 9 Gs in a few of the turns that we did. It’s just a really, really cool experience to fly in something that fast and that, just, incredible. You’re literally flying on a little tiny jet-propelled rocket, and the sensation and thrill is unlike anything I’ve ever had.