What goes through the mind of a race-car driver after a serious accident? If you want some insight just ask Aric Almirola, who will miss the next eight to 12 weeks of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competition after suffering a compression fracture of his T5 vertebra last Saturday night at Kansas Speedway.
Almirola was at Charlotte Motor Speedway Friday, where teams are preparing for Saturday night’s Monster Energy All-Star Race. In a frank and emotional interview, Almirola pulled no punches.
Here are the 8 most eye-opening things Almirola said in a 30-minute media session.
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Seeing the wreck
Almirola saw Joey Logano and Danica Patrick crash ahead of him and tried to avoid it. “I should have missed the wreck, but I committed to Turn 1,” said Logano. “When I got there the cars that I was racing around went to the bottom, so I committed to the very outside lane and simultaneously when I committed to the outside lane I saw the accident up ahead and they came across the race track very abruptly and went into the outside catchfence. I immediately knew that they were in my line of path.”
Trying to miss the crash
When he tried to avoid the crash ahead of him, Almirola’s No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford couldn’t get out of the way. “I got on the brakes and turned the steering wheel to the left and my car got loose, and the next thing I knew I was on oil or water or something because my car wouldn’t slow down, it wouldn’t steer,” said Almirola. “I felt like from that point my car was on railroad tracks and I was just headed straight for the wreck. There was nothing I could do.
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On the risk of returning too soon
Wisely, Almirola isn’t going to rush a return to the cockpit. “I were to get in another similar accident and not be properly healed, you’re talking about potentially being paralyzed from the belly button down, so I’m not gonna risk that,” said Almirola. “I’ve got a lot of baseball to play with my son and I’d like to dance with my daughter one day at her wedding, so I’m not gonna risk it. Whenever the doctors clear me, I’ll be ready to get back in a race car.”
Unless something unusual happens, missing eight to 12 weeks means Almirola will almost certainly miss NASCAR’s playoffs. “It’s tough to swallow for sure, but it’s fate or whatever and there’s nothing I can do about it,” he said. I can’t go back. I can’t change it, so we’ll have to figure it out and move forward and I’m not gonna rush to get back in the car just because playoffs are on the line or anything like that. I’m gonna make sure I’m properly healed before I get back in the race car.”
Almirola was furious about being photographed as safety workers pulled him out of his wrecked car. “I’m pretty pissed off about it, to be honest with you. … They (photographers) had no idea when I got pulled out of the race car if they were gonna see a pool of blood all over my uniform, they didn’t know if my legs were going to be attached, they didn’t know any of that and they were just sitting there with their shutters flying wide-open. So I just think it’s extremely unprofessional.”
Make no mistake, Almirola said he’s in a lot of pain. “As far as the pain, it’s pretty bad,” he said. “Immediately, on a scale of 1 to 10 if 10 was excruciating it was a 9.5. It slowly got better and then for whatever reason the last couple days it’s creeped back up. I’ve been trying to get off the pain meds so I could sit up here and talk to you and not look drunk, so I’ve not taken any pain meds in the last 48 hours. I’ve been trying to get off of those and as I do that the pain does intensify.”
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It could have been worse
When he crashed, Almirola was unhappy. Later, he released things could have been much worse. “I didn’t’ think I was lucky,” said Almirola. “I was pretty upset in the moment and then after meeting with doctors in Kansas and Charlotte I realized how fortunate I was. I want to thank the Good Lord for looking out for me.”
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Like all racers, Almirola knows danger is a part of the sport, even though safety advances have come a long way. “You don’t ever think about it when you’re in the race car, but as a race car driver you know the risks that are involved,” said Almirola. “I’m not naïve. I’ve seen people get killed in race cars. I’ve seen people break their backs in race cars. I’ve seen people break their legs in race cars, so you know that, you take that danger and compartmentalize it somewhere in the very, very far back of your brain and you recognize the risk, but the enjoyment of driving a race car and the adrenaline rush and all that has always outweighed the risk for me.”