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

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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.”

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NHRA Gatornationals: John Force qualifies 15th with no motor explosion, says ‘I need to race smart’ Sunday

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There’s good news and bad news for John Force fans.

The good news is the 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ did not suffer yet another motor explosion after enduring his third in three races during Friday’s qualifying session at Gainesville (Florida) Raceway.

In fact, Force intentionally feathered the gas pedal on his Chevrolet Camaro Funny Car to make sure it wasn’t again overtaxed, qualifying 15th with a run of 4.281 seconds at 222.88 mph.

Now for the bad news.

When Sunday’s final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. ET, Force will be matched against daughter and No. 2 qualifier, Courtney Force (3.914 seconds at 332.18 mph).

“It is a little bit of a bummer that I have to race him in the first round,” Courtney Force said of her father. “Tomorrow is a new day and we will have all our stuff ready and we will put on our game faces to go for that win.”

Courtney Force is seeking her second consecutive win, having also won two weeks ago at the second national event of the season in suburban Phoenix.

“I want to have a good side-by-side safe race tomorrow in round one,” Force said. “Our goal is to take my dad down and have a long day at the track winning rounds.

“We want to move the momentum over from Phoenix. I feel like my guys have a good handle on this Advance Auto Parts Camaro.”

But don’t count out dear old dad, an eight-time Funny Car winner at Gainesville.

“I am the kind of guy that, when it is qualifying day, I run it to the edge.,” John Force said. “I run it even if I know it will hurt itself.

“(With his three motor explosions this season) I am rethinking all that. What I am looking is the long haul. To go out here and say I have to win this race or I have to qualify low after as much stuff as we have put on the ground in Pomona and Phoenix and then to come here and do it again is bad. … We want to fix this problem and move on.

“Tomorrow I am going to have to play the odds game. I am going to run it to 700 or 800 feet and hope (Courtney) gets in trouble. I need to race smart.”

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