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NASCAR driver draws inspiration from Airmen

Aric Almirola, driver for the Air Force-sponsored No. 43 car, stands near his ride prior to the qualifying round for the Sprint Cup Series Race March 9, 2012 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Almirola said he draws inspiration from Airmen as role models. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Daniel Hughes)

Aric Almirola, driver for the Air Force-sponsored No. 43 car, stands near his ride prior to the qualifying round for the Sprint Cup Series Race March 9, 2012 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Almirola said he draws inspiration from Airmen as role models. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Daniel Hughes)

David Doyle, underneath mechanic, performs final adjustments on the Air Force-sponsored No. 43 car prior to the start of the Sprint Cup Series Race at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway qualifying round March 9, 2012, in Las Vegas. The driver, Aric Almirola, competed in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Kobalt Tools 400 Sunday at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Daniel Hughes)

David Doyle, underneath mechanic, performs final adjustments on the Air Force-sponsored No. 43 car prior to the start of the Sprint Cup Series Race at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway qualifying round March 9, 2012, in Las Vegas. The driver, Aric Almirola, competed in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Kobalt Tools 400 Sunday at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Daniel Hughes)

Aric Almirola, driver of the Air Force-sponsored No. 43 car, speaks with Airmen on the basketball court of the Nellis Air Force Base Fitness Center March 8, 2012. Almirola is scheduled to compete in the Kobalt Tools 400 NASCAR race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway March 11.

Aric Almirola, driver of the Air Force-sponsored No. 43 car, speaks with Airmen on the basketball court of the Nellis Air Force Base Fitness Center March 8, 2012. Almirola is scheduled to compete in the Kobalt Tools 400 NASCAR race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway March 11.

Aric Almirola, driver of the Air Force-sponsored No. 43 car, greets two new members of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Squadron in the Thunderbirds hangar March 8, 2012. Almirola was in town to compete in the Kobalt Tools 400 NASCAR race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway March 11.

Aric Almirola, driver of the Air Force-sponsored No. 43 car, greets two new members of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Squadron in the Thunderbirds hangar March 8, 2012. Almirola was in town to compete in the Kobalt Tools 400 NASCAR race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway March 11.

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. -- From go-cart driver to NASCAR racer, the U.S. Air Force sponsored NO. 43 car driver Aric Almirola considers the Air Force a major driving force in his life.

According to Almirola, his involvement with the Air Force began years before getting behind the wheel of a racing career.

"It is a real special opportunity being able to drive for the U.S. Air Force," says Almirola. "Being born on an Air Force base and my father being a retired Airman has made it a very rewarding experience."

Almirola's experience has been two decades in the making.

"I think about it often, less than 20 years ago I had my first go-cart race for fun with my family," Almiorla said. "That lead into it becoming very serious, then getting into competitive go carts, followed by race cars, and finally stock cars."

Racing at speeds of up to 180 miles per hour isn't the only thing that gives Almirola satisfaction when racing for the Air Force team. The symbol painted on his vehicle and the fans who cheer him on give Almirola a strong sense of pride.

"I have been very fortunate, being able to be one of the 43 NASCAR drivers that get to race on Sundays all while doing it in the No. 43 Car under Richard Petty Racing, and being sponsored by the Air Force," Almirola said.

When the USAF Aerial Demonstration Squadron "Thunderbirds" execute a flyover at one of his races, Almirola believes there is nothing quite like it.

"I have been begging them for a ride, they say I'm on the list.  I think it will be an awesome surreal experience to be able to fly with them," said Almirola. "I hope to win a race here one day and donate my trophy to the Thunderbird Museum."

Racing for NASCAR, like serving for the United States Air Force, is about working together as a team. Brian Dantinne, Almirola's car chief, explained how it feels to represent the Air Force on and off the track.  'The U.S. Air Force sets the bar high, so we as a team feel we need to perform at a high level on and off the speedway," said Dantinne.

Although Almirola is often in the spotlight on the racing track, he believes the Airman he represents are the real role models.

"I get viewed as a role model or someone to look up to by the fans of our sport," Almirola said. "The real heros are the people in the Air Force and Armed Forces, they are the ones that allow us the opportunity to do what we love and live in a free country."

After placing 24th among the 43 cars in Sunday's NASCAR's Kobalt 400 race in Las Vegas, Almirola will continue racing in the Sprint Cup Series Championship.