Aric Almirola surprises Army family with shopping spree, VIP treatment at Texas

Leave a comment

It’s not every day you run into a NASCAR driver at the grocery store, and then he surprises your family with an all-expenses paid shopping spree.

That’s what happened Friday morning as Army Sergeant Ralph Harroff and his family were preparing to go shopping at their local Kroger store in Fort Worth, Texas.

All of a sudden, Richard Petty Motorsports Sprint Cup driver Aric Almirola raced through the parking lot, jumped out of the famed No. 43, and made a beeline to the startled Harroff family.

From there, Almirola escorted the Harroff’s to the meats aisle, where a special grill cooking smoked sausage was waiting.

Almirola then loaded a number of Eckrich products into a shopping cart, and then accompanied the Harroff’s throughout the store for more food essentials.

Not only did Eckrich foot the bill, along with another $430 in Kroger gift cards for future shopping use, Almirola presented the family with authentic racing crew uniforms and invited them to be his special guests at Sunday’s Duck Commander 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

The family will watch the race from atop the RPM pit box.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” said Sgt. Harroff, who was injured in action in Afghanistan in 2009 and endured a long recovery that was trying on both himself and his family. “It’s something that I’ll never forget. … To have Eckrich and Aric Almirola give us a shopping spree for my family, and to invite us to be a part of the race team this weekend, it means a lot. There are so many deserving military families, I just feel lucky to be honored like this.”

The promotion was park of Eckrich’s “Operation Inspiration” program that supports and honors military families.

“This is really what ‘Operation Inspiration’ is all about,” said Charles Gitkin, vice president for the John Morrell Food Group. “We heard the story of Army Sgt. Ralph Harroff and his family. It’s families like these that inspire us to honor and assist them, and give them an experience they will never forget.”

Added Almirola, “This is a family that I can really relate with. Growing up in a military family, and now being a father myself, I can understand the sacrifices the Harroff family has made. It makes me feel good that I can work with Eckrich to help honor and give back to military families. I know we put a smile on their faces today.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Hamilton leads damp first USGP practice at COTA, Hartley debuts

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Lewis Hamilton continued his impressive Formula 1 record at the Circuit of The Americas by topping opening practice for the United States Grand Prix on Friday for Mercedes.

A four-time winner of the USGP at COTA, Hamilton set the pace in damp conditions in first practice after rain hit the Austin area in the lead-up to the start of the session.

After initially venturing out on intermediate tires, Hamilton made the switch to super-softs at the halfway point in FP1, ultimately posting a fastest time of 1:36.335.

Hamilton’s time saw him finish over half a second clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who he could beat to the F1 drivers’ championship at COTA this weekend should results go his way.

Mercedes got two cars into the top three as Valtteri Bottas wound up third in the second W08 car, six-tenths back from Hamilton, while Max Verstappen ended FP1 fourth for Red Bull.

Felipe Massa led Williams into the top 10 with an impressive lap en route to fifth, finishing ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne.

Vandoorne was left to lead McLaren’s charge after a hydraulic leak sidelined Fernando Alonso for much of the session, limiting the Spaniard to just four laps in total.

Force India managed to get both its drivers up into the top 10 as Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez finished eighth and ninth respectively, edging out Renault’s Carlos Sainz Jr. who was P10 in his first appearance for the team.

Brendon Hartley enjoyed his first run-out in Toro Rosso’s STR12 car ahead of his grand prix debut on Sunday, taking P14 overall.

The New Zealander had not driven an F1 car since a test with Mercedes in 2012, but put in a solid first display in practice, even though his race hopes are set to be hindered by a grid penalty.

Second practice for the United States Grand Prix is live on the NBC Sports app from 3pm ET today.