CENTRIC Almirola Photo

Former University of Central Florida student Aric Almirola celebrates his NASCAR triumph as the first Hispanic to win in all three series.

Sitting on pit road waiting for NASCAR to declare him the winner felt like an eternity for Aric Almirola.

A race that was already delayed 16 hours could not possibly last any longer as heavy rain swept across Daytona International Speedway. What he did not realize is that he was on the verge of history.

“To be the first Hispanic that has won in all three series means a lot to me,” Almirola said. “It means that I’ve accomplished something that nobody else has. And, it means that our sport is continuing to evolve and diversify. I’m proud to be a part of it.”

However, it has never been easy for former University of Central Florida student Almirola as his early career was fraught with unfortunate circumstances. The U.S. Army sponsored his ride at the Sprint Cup Series, but only until the recession hit.

“I had no idea that the sponsor was getting ready to pull out of the sport, leaving me with a ride but with no sponsor,” Almirola said. This all changed in 2010 when a phone call from a former NASCAR Camping World Truck Series owner gave him the opportunity no one else would.

“The year that I drove Billy Ballew’s truck was really the turning point for my career,” Almirola said. “We won those two races at Dover and Michigan and came close to winning quite a few others. That really got noticed.”

Eventually, icons of the sport such as Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Richard Petty, whom he still drives for today, were after his services, and he is now a constant threat for race wins and is competing for championships while serving as the face of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Program.

“I do believe that Aric Almirola is making history even if it is only in his sport because these little victories for people of color are slowly making this type of thing normal,” said Stephanie Melendez, chair of the College Democrats at UCF.

As for Almirola, being a good role model for not just the Hispanic community, but also his family and the racing community is most important. Victories are nice but what he regards most is his impact and leaving the sport in a better place than when he started.

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