Every kid had a hero growing up. In Aric Almirola‘s case, it was his grandfather Sam Rodriguez, who was a three-time Tampa Bay Area Racing Association (TBARA) Dirt Sprint Car champion. As a result, Almirola traces his racing success to Rodriguez and became passionate about motorsports while sitting in the grandstands and watching his hero cross the finish line first, then running across the track to get his picture taken with him in victory lane. Almirola says his grandfather instilled a hard work ethic in him at a young age that ultimately propelled him into NASCAR‘s top series. In Almirola‘s final fulltime NASCAR Cup Series season, he will bring it all full circle at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway this weekend with a special throwback paint scheme honoring the iconic Dirt Sprint Car of his hero “Slammin‘ Sammy.” And how better to bring it all full circle than to recreate the images of Almirola and Rodriguez in victory lane with that same paint scheme Sunday at Darlington — this time letting Rodriguez hold the flag.

From 1984 to 1994, Rodriguez captured 90 wins, fourth-best in all-time Sprint Car victories in Florida. Rodriguez enjoyed a breakout season in 1990, when he made his way to victory lane on 15 separate occasions before earning his first of three TBARA championships. In addition to his successful racing career, Rodriguez built and operated Dirt Devil Speedway, a 1/5-mile clay oval located in Land O‘ Lakes Florida that still operates today under new management. Shortly after he retired, Rodriguez purchased Almirola his first go-kart and insisted that, in order to become a good racer, the 8-year-old Almirola would have to work on the kart himself. From there, Rodriguez shifted from hero to mentor and helped Almirola climb the ranks through local racing series.

— True Speed Communications —

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