Photo: (c) Brad Schloss
“You’re looking at it!”
That’s how Aric Almirola answered the question, “What do you do to entertain yourself on a race weekend.” Of course, he was riding his bike across Will County’s deserted roads while in town for last weekend’s race at Chicagoland Speedway. It was late Saturday afternoon. He’d taken the #43, Richard Petty Motorsports Ford Fusion for the last practice of the weekend. What else is there to do with a couple of free hours? If you love your bike, there’s only one choice.
And Aric Almirola loves his bike.
So, it’s not unusual for Aric to ride when he can, just like you. He posts on Strava when he can (although, for legitimate reasons, don’t expect to see his rides made public). He works with Trainingbible, just like many of you. He’s helped by Rob Kelley’s ROK Coaching, too.
ROK’s coaching plan wasn’t why he was necessarily riding on Saturday. That is the reason part of the Bicycle Heaven racing team was riding on Saturday with him, though.
Aric was gracious enough to invite Rob and teammates Peter “PFK” Kelley and myself for a pleasant afternoon ride. It was a great ride, too. We left from the track just after the start of the NASCAR Nationwide race. As we rolled through the tunnel passing under the track and away from the roar of race motors, the throngs of adoring fans and masses of vehicles that travel with the NASCAR road show quickly gave way to corn and soybeans. Plus, gravel. Plenty of gravel. The gravel didn’t bother Aric, either. There’s no better way to test the ability of a guy on a road bike than to stick him on gravel. Aric had no problems.
Oddly enough, the ride took us past two farm-field-turned-campgrounds. One even had a couple of old school-buses painted with driver names and numbers. None of the campers, all of whom were prsumably in the area for the NASCAR race, recognized the Richard Petty Motorsports driver as he rode right past. Crazy how a Bissell Pro Cycling kit can turn somebody’s racing hero into a relative unknown.
Perhaps that’s why Aric and other NASCAR drivers and crew enjoy kitting up and riding their bikes so much? It’s a pleasant change of pace.
As the gravel road turned back to tarmac, Pete decided to “be Pete” and turn the dial up a little bit. We settled into a four man Bicycle Heaven-style rotation for several miles and got a bit of a sweat going. Apparently, though, when your job is driving a Ford Fusion over 180 MPH, riding a bike in close quarters at quick speed isn’t a really a big deal. Aric had no problems as we obliterated two King of the Mountain segments on Strava.
After 35 miles we rode back to the track. The Nationwide race was over and fans were pouring from the track. We rode the access road back to the tunnel, and some of the departing fans even jeered the spandex-clad man they paid to come watch. Obviously they had no idea.
When we turned to the tunnel, I backed off from Rob, Pete and Aric. The tunnel has a long downhill run into a little rubber speed bump. I’ve ridden enough hours alongside Rob and Pete to know it wouldn’t be an issue for them. Aric, though? I don’t know about that guy. Bunny-hopping a road bike isn’t the easiest thing for a lot of people to do without crashing. Even if he’s essentially a paid dare-devil, I’m going to give him space. So I did.
Show’s what I know. He rolled the hill, popped the bump, and kept riding without slowing a bit. Which, of course, left me slogging my bloated frame up the uphill side of the tunnel having to play catch-up. Sometimes life just isn’t fair.
Getting back among the cars and haulers and people, I could see why Aric likes to get out into the “nothingness” on his bike. As exciting and thrilling as the entire NASCAR environment is, there’s not really much “quiet time” at the track. Hour after hour, day after day, and week after week of this could leave a man needing a change of pace. Even if only for a few hours.
So, that’s got to be the highlight of the weekend, right? If riding bikes with one of NASCAR’s rising stars isn’t the highlight of any weekend, I don’t know what is. Or, at least I didn’t know what was. As crazy as it sounds, it was only one highlight of, perhaps, the weekend of a lifetime.
The Richard Petty Motorsports crew also gave us incredible “behind the scenes” access. As in, we hung out in the garages during practice:
We got to climb atop the hauler and see where “The King” himself watches the race
We got to go inside the hauler and meet The King. We met Richard Petty!
We stuffed our faces with food in the Eckrich luxury sweet. It was fantastic.
We watched the race from the pits. It was nuts.
We watched the race from atop the pit box. It was nuttier!
We even got to take a ride in “Ms. Piggy”
That is a pretty fantastic weekend for a few guys who like to spend their time riding bikes. Our ride this weekend taught us that Aric Almirola is one of us, and a legit cyclist. Richard Petty is extremely gracious. The entire Richard Petty Motorsports organization is a well run, class act- and we can’t thank them all enough.
If you’re a cycling fan with a chance to watch some NASCAR, keep an eye on the #43 Ford Fusion. More importantly, keep an eye on guys on bikes riding outside the track. You just never know who might be riding by.
Address: 124 West State Street Geneva Il. 60143
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