NASCAR driver Aric Almirola grew up knowing the cost of freedom. His grandparents had escaped Cuba during Fidel Castro’s reign, and his dad is an Air Force veteran.
It left a lasting impression on Almirola. He plans to use his platform to honor the military during the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday and remind fans why we celebrate Memorial Day.
“It just made me appreciate the sacrifice, you know, living it firsthand … seeing my dad go to work every day and put his uniform on and just really knowing and understanding what that looks like and what that sacrifice really is,” Almirola told Fox News.
Aric Almirola told Motorsport.com in 2014 that his grandparents had to leave everything behind when they emigrated. Castro was allowing “Freedom Flights” from Cuba to Miami in 1966. But there was a catch: you had to leave everything to the government if you decided to leave the country. Almirola’s family was middle class, and leaving meant leaving behind all they’d worked for during their lives.
But they made the difficult choice to come to America. They knew right away they’d found a new and welcoming home where they could not just rebuild but thrive.
“It’s one thing to live in a country that’s so inviting – a place where people want to be,” Aric says. “I’m lucky enough to be an American citizen. But I also get to drive a race car for a living and make really good money at it to support my family. I know this is all because of my grandparents’ decision to move here. There’s no way I’d be racing cars if I lived in Cuba.”
Aric Almirola to Honor Heroic Navy Seal at Race
Every NASCAR driver will honor a fallen soldier during Sunday’s race. It’s become a tradition to put the name of a soldier who’s paid the ultimate price on the car’s windshields as a way to remember their sacrifice.
Aric Almirola Ford Mustang will feature the name of Master-At-Arms Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Monsoor. Monsoor died in 2006 when he threw himself on a grenade to save members of his platoon.
President George W. Bush awarded Monsoor the Medal of Honor in 2008 for his valor. And the Navy named a Zumwalt class destroyer named after him, Fox News said.
“I think it’s important that we do this, and I think it’s equally important that we don’t forget that we don’t just celebrate this on Memorial Day and on Veterans Day, that we really take with us throughout the course of a year, that there are men and women fighting for our freedom every single day and we wake up and we drink our coffee and we go about our day with freedom, and we are safe and secure in the greatest country of all, and it’s not free,” he said. “Our freedom is not free.”