If you’ve followed Matt and/or I through ApexOff or The Racing Rundown Podcast over the last few years, you’ve probably heard me proclaim my allegiance to the likes of AJ Allmendinger. This morning I caught up on my Twitter feed over a cup of coffee and ol’ Dinger’s tweets admittedly had me in the feels. (The Thread is great, go read it).
1) On the eve of what quite possibly could be my last full time race in auto racing I cant help look back and thank the people that have made my career what it has been. @paultracy3 for giving me an opportunity in karting to make a bigger name for myself and push me to the next
— AJ Allmendinger (@AJDinger) November 18, 2018
AJ Allmendinger’s story to get to this point in the racing universe is quite unique and I wish more people knew about it. I won’t list out every step of his career here but I will say that AJ’s presence in this sport is something that I’ve really latched onto over the years. Racing is more fun having a driver to you follow over the course of a season or career. Luckily for me, that has always been Allmendinger.
As a race fan, I’m usually conscious of coming off like a fanboy but in this case I really don’t care. A simple fact that the big time racing media won’t tell you is that few drivers have as distinct of a racing background as The Dinger. In an era where big name drivers ascend to the title of an “All Time Great”
for broadening their racing horizons, AJ is continuously overlooked for this notion. How many other drivers out there can say they’ve won in every single form of professional American Motorsports?
I won’t bore you with the RacingReference page but put it this way: You won’t find another driver that has won at the top level of open wheel (Champ Car), sportscars (IMSA), and stock cars (NASCAR) like AJ Allmendinger has. It’s hard enough finding drivers that have even driven all of those three types of race cars. When you really think about it, given the economic climate of racing in 2018, AJ will likely be the last driver for a long time that can wear that crown. I love that drivers are stepping out and trying different series and disciplines, but a whole career trajectory as diverse as Allmendinger’s will be hard to find going forward.
The high points of Allmendinger’s career over the last 7 years will be impossible for me to forget. I have a weird enough memory as is but when it comes to racing there are some moments that will just stick with me forever. Seeing the battle for the lead at the 2013 Indianapolis 500 will always be my favorite on track racing memory. Given the circumstances, it was a huge moment all things considered. A driver chastised by an entire sport given an opportunity from the biggest ownership name in all of racing in position to win the biggest race in the world? I certainly didn’t see the mainstream media telling you that story in 2013 at Indy but that was exactly what was going on after a failed drug test (for ADD medicine that is administered to people, even kids, all over the world every day, yes I am still salty) left him jobless in NASCAR. What did AJ do? Go out and build a comeback story for the ages and lead the biggest race in the world for an upstart owner named Roger Searl Penske.
There were huge moments like that (that the mainstream media never covered because it wasn’t juicy enough) and there were small, meaningless moments like the Kentucky tire test in 2016. It’s a unique experience to see your favorite race team working “behind the scenes” but I got to do this at the Goodyear Tire Test in 2016. I stood on the fencing outside the 47 team’s garage for probably 4 hours watching them go about their business and work on getting more out of their car. Seeing a driver explain what they’re feeling in the car isn’t something that you can’t realistically do very many times in life and that day I got the chance to do that. Plenty of other people at the track that day had the same access to the garages but I was the only “fan” following the 47 team that day. They probably thought I was some obsessive weirdo but hopefully they appreciated that I wasn’t there to ask for autographs.
Regardless of what happens next in AJ Allmendinger’s career, these few years will always tick out to me as the years that hooked me back into racing and The Dinger is the main reason for that. I’ll never forget all those times feverishly watching Watkins Glen and Sonoma qualifying sessions knowing the 47 team would be fighting for the pole. Certainly won’t forget being a wide-eyed 21 year old in the stands at my first Indy 500 seeing my driver control the biggest race in the world. Somehow I’ve made it this far without mentioning watching the 2014 Watkins Glen win on my damn phone. No internet at the apartment that I was in the process of moving into but needless to say it was worth the argument with my then-girlfriend for stopping the moving process to watch a race. I probably still have the screenshots of the victory celebrations somewhere on iCloud.
The aim wasn’t to give you an autobiography of myself as a race fan, but I just want to say “thank you” to AJ Allmendinger for the memories over the last few years. A lot of speculation would lead to plenty of more IMSA starts but nothing has been announced, so I’ll be anxious to see where the next chapter begins for The Dinger. Not too many true racers like him still exist.