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In the Hot Seat: AJ Allmendinger

AJ Allmendinger gears up for a strong finish to the 2023 season. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

LINCOLN, Ala. — Life is pretty good for 41-year-old AJ Allmendinger of Los Gatos, California.

Certainly, the Kaulig Racing driver has made the most of his return to full-time NASCAR Cup Series competition this year. He has continually moved the goal posts in an upward trajectory for the thriving multi-car organization.

As fired up and intense as Allmendinger gets in the car, he is as dedicated and passionate with having the best life possible. Racing for the Kaulig operations has catalyzed Allmendinger’s outlook on life, at and away from the track.

Likewise, Allmendinger smiles even more these days as a new father to his son, Aero James. By all means, he and wife, Tara, are enjoying the journey of parenthood together along with their pets, Xena and Chicken Nugget.

While the season is winding down, Allmendinger gives it 110% to deliver maximum results for his No. 16 Action Industries Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 team. However, he is appreciating the journey and quest of his racing career that dates back to 1986 at age five.

By and large, Allmendinger has plentiful motivation to succeed for his family and Kaulig Racing teammates. Simply put, he continually strives to be the best he can be no matter how things may go.

Recently, Allmendinger returned to the “Hot Seat” during the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 race weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

Rob Tiongson: Welcome back to The Podium Finish Live! at the racetrack with “In the Hot Seat with the driver of the No. 16 Action Industries Chevrolet Camaro Zl1 fielded by Kaulig Racing. This gentleman here is AJ Allmendinger. I’m Rob Tiongson, of course.

As always, we can’t do Texas race weekend without AJ. So, before we get started, how are you doing?

AJ Allmendinger: I’m great. I’m liking your sleek haircut there. It’s good for this weather. I made a mistake. I didn’t get the haircut this week, so I’m just going to sweat like crazy.

Luckily, I’m going to have to add more gel to my hair for this weekend because it’s supposed to be like 104 on race day. So that’s my biggest concern right now. It’s how much gel I’ve got to put in my hair for the race.

Other than that, it’s pretty good.

Tiongson: Well, the secret is hairspray.

Allmendinger: No, no hairspray. You got the hair that just kind of flows perfectly that way. My hair curls. If I go hairspray, it looks like a big poofy labradoodle by the time I’m done. So, I gotta gel it.

Tiongson: Oh, boy. Oh, boy. Well, we will talk about hair in a little bit…

But let’s actually talk about good business here, because since we last talked, you’re now a dad! I’d be remiss if I don’t congratulate you and Tara on becoming parents to your beautiful baby boy, Aero James. And I saw the video on Instagram, which really melted my heart.

What’s it been like to raise your baby boy these first few weeks here?

Suffice to say, AJ and Tara Allmendinger are all smiles even more so these days as they were during the 2023 Pit Boss 250 presented by USA Today at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Allmendinger: Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting when you look down at him and it’s like, wow, I have a real human to care for now, This is insane. I wasn’t ready for that.

So luckily, I’m married to the unicorn. So, Tara, she’s amazing. And right now, he’s a mama’s boy. He constantly wants to be attached to her for multiple reasons. And we’ll leave it at that.

But no, it’s really cool. I can’t wait to, as he gets older, for us to be best buddies and hang out. So, everything’s really good. I’m sleeping fairly well. Tara stays in his room because he constantly needs her. But yeah, it’s special.

Tiongson: I was going to say back in March when all the good news happened, I was like, “Oh, AJ and Tara are not going to get any sleep at all.” So, it looks like one of you guys is getting the victory on that.

Allmendinger: Yeah, I got the better end of the deal. But, you know, it’s like more than anything right now, I’m always more just worried about her. I’m like, “OK, I don’t want her exhausted. I want to make sure she gets everything she needs.” So that’s really my job right now in this is just to make sure, as the husband, that Tara’s just not completely exhausted and ready to run away.

Tiongson: It’s like the Rolex 24. But you have a baby now, not a trophy to go after.

Allmendinger: About the same sound sometimes, quite honestly.

Tiongson: There you go. Parents, do endurance races, then become a parent. And along with that, you also have a new kitty in your family. I know we all miss Mr. Tickles. I do, I know you and Tara do.

But you got Chicken Nugget now, which is great name. How is life with Chicken Nugget?

Allmendinger: Chicken Nugget’s great. For Tara, losing Tickles was a sudden shock that we weren’t really ready for. And Tickles was… both of our pets. But that was Tara’s baby.

For a long time, we had a lot of fans constantly messaging Tara, like, “Oh, I found this cat” or “I found that cat” and it just was never the right time. And then for whatever reason, this sweet lady texted or messaged Tara and they started talking and started sending videos. And the next thing you know, we’re picking Chicken Nugget up at Gateway, of all places. She lived in Missouri.

So she drove, dropped off Chicken Nugget, went to the race and yeah, she’s great. It’s actually crazy to me how different Tickles is to Chicken Nugget. Just their personalities… Tickles, even to the day before he passed, if somebody came in the bus or somebody came in the house, he would run away and hide. And then maybe he’d come check it out and see if everything’s (OK).

Chicken Nugget will basically jump at the person right away. But yeah, it’s Tara’s new baby. And I’m happy that that we have Chicken Nugget because you could see how happy she makes Tara.

Tiongson: Everyone’s happy in the Allmendinger house. It’s like a brand new family. We started the year off and now all of a sudden look at this.

Allmendinger: Yeah, we’re working on Xena right now because she’s still trying to figure out what Aero is. So, she’s getting closer. I don’t think she likes that it’s not all about her right now. For the most part, it’s peaceful at the house.

Tiongson: It’ll work out. I speak from experience. It wasn’t long ago that you were this young driver…

Allmendinger: That was long ago when I was a young driver, Rob.

Tiongson: I don’t want to think that way. (both laugh) 2006 feels like yesterday to me.

Allmendinger: Yeah. Yeah.

Tiongson: But no, you were like the brash, young, confident, open wheel driver against these great guys in the IndyCar Series. And now you’re one of the respected veterans in stock car racing. When you have a moment to pause and think about it, how do you feel about all of this?

Certainly, 21-year-old AJ Allmendinger would be pleased to know that his older counterpart is in stock car’s premier division. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Allmendinger: For me, it’s always… I look at every day, waking up and try to be better. And no matter what you’re doing in life, that to me is the reason to wake up is, is to try to get better. If you would have told 2002 AJ Almendinger about, as I was starting off in open-wheel racing, like, “Hey, by the way, in 21 years you’re still going to be getting paid to drive race cars,” I would have signed up for that deal in a heartbeat.

I feel very fortunate that I still get to do this and feel like I can still do it for another several years if I want to. But with that said, it’s always about trying to improve. So, there’s those ups and downs of just the mental side of it of certain days you feel great about yourself. And other days, you feel like, you’re not very good and you got to figure out a way to get better.

So, it’s just part of it. And that’s what keeps pushing me.

Tiongson: So, it’s always pushing that goalpost to never stay still because stagnancy makes you go, “Why am I doing this in the first place?”

Allmendinger: Yeah. I always feel like if you don’t wake up to be better, as bad as it sounds, maybe there’s no reason to wake up. So that’s what I’m always trying to push myself.

And it creates an amazing life that I have. And it creates a dark side sometimes, too, when you’re struggling, and you just feel like you’re not getting better.

So, there’s a good and the bad with it, for sure.

Tiongson: That you’ve been able to navigate those uncharted waters and you’re handling it really well and that’s why you’re here in this team.

What would be some of the goals for the end of this year that would make you say, “You know what, AJ, I had a pretty decent year?”

Allmendinger: Yeah, I think the ultimate goal is to win a race, but that’s so difficult. And I think at times, where we are as a team, that even on the road courses, you’re reaching but I feel like we can go to the ROVAL and run up front.

I feel like if we could just consistently run top 15 the rest of the season, go to the couple of racetracks that you feel like you can be really good at and run really strong, of course, if that’s a win, that’s amazing.

And if not, I think you just finish the year knowing that  you finish the year a lot better than you started. And I think that’s all you can ask for.

Tiongson: Those are realistic goals for sure. And if you win at the ROVAL, we all know that you’re going to win because your victory celebrations are comparable to a like a Professional Bowling Association guy, PBW (Pete Weber). Yeah, that’s what it reminds me of. So, you better be like, “AJ Allmendinger!” (laughter)

Now, you’re with a bunch of energetic people on this team. What’s been the most memorable or best advice you’ve received from either Matt Kaulig or Chris Rice?

Matt Kaulig instilled some inspiration for AJ Allmendinger’s outlook with life. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Allmendinger: I think Matt, in the business sense of starting LeafFilter in his basement, in his garage, with a couple of buddies to where it is now and where he’s at in life…. you know the best thing and I’m not and I’ll be 100% honest, I’m terrible at this. But Matt is big about just enjoying every day, enjoying the process and they talk about smiling for the day.

I think that’s the biggest thing. And I need to be a lot better at it at times. But Matt just leads that so much of just enjoying what we’re doing and going through the process, even if it’s not going well because we’re still very fortunate to do that.

So, I’ll admit, that’s something I got to be better at. But Matt’s big about just enjoying yourself and what you’re doing.

Tiongson: Yeah, and it’s obvious because this team has such harmony. Everyone works on making this program even better.

One thing I’m not sure that’s getting better is the golf swing because Mr. Hemric told me a while back that he can hold his own against you.

Allmendinger: Yea, Hemric smoked me this week. I think it’s better sometimes him only playing once every month, and he goes out with low expectations compared to me, where I grind away and probably hit 2 to 300 golf balls every day and expect… I don’t know.

What do I expect right now? I expect to be better than I am. So, he’s fully right on that. He can hold his own and then when he wants, he can beat the hell out of me.

Tiongson: So, he’s actually not hyping it to me. He was really being honest.

Allmendinger: He’s right. Yeah.

Tiongson: That Kannapolis kid! Oh, boy. Oh, boy.

If you had all the money in resources in the world to build your own racetrack, anywhere around the world, what kind of track would you build and where would it be?

Allmendinger: Well, I wouldn’t leave the US. I love my homeland and I enjoy it and definitely don’t want to leave it. It’s a good question of where I would build it. I think… just because I love this area for golf, to me, the Hilton Head area, it’s so beautiful there.

And if you could pick the right part of a land there and build a racetrack, it’d be a road course. I’m not building no damn oval.

That to me… that would be an awesome place to race because I just love that area, and it’s so beautiful there. So that would be my pick.

Tiongson: I like that. Sounds really majestic.

If SiriusXM said, “Hey, AJ, we want you to be a guest DJ for a day.” What songs are you playing for an hour block?

Allmendinger: Oh, man, We’d have a good mix flow in there. We would go some hard rock with Godsmack and Five Finger Death Punch. Then we’d switch it to Drake, stuff like that.

Then we’d have to probably end it on some Vegas club music. We’ll go with that just to kind of keep the energy up and that flow.

So we would have a good mix of what I would pick in music genre. But you’d leave happy, I could promise that. And maybe a little angry, too.

Tiongson: What about that, folks? He actually gave me a PG answer. I can actually air this on YouTube Kids!

Anyways, AJ, do you have anything you want to say to the fans on the video or the podcast?

Things are on the up and up for AJ Allmendinger. (Photo: John Arndt | The Podium Finsih)

Allmendinger: Man, Rob, I just love you. Like, if anybody else would have asked to do an interview this weekend, I’d have told them to go, you know?

Tiongson: Eat some rocks?

Allmendinger: Yeah, something like that. But for you, I’m here, man.

Tiongson: And that’s why I’m here, too.

Editor’s Notes

Special thanks to AJ Allmendinger for taking the time to catch up last Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway. Also, special thanks to Skylar Kays of Kaulig Racing for her kindness and guidance for AJ’s latest feature!

Additionally, along with coverage on The Podium Finish, keep up-to-date on AJ’s latest happenings on X!

Last but not least, check out the video version of “In the Hot Seat: AJ Allmendinger,” on YouTube!

Rob Tiongson is a 30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught his eyes. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing. Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat. Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Journalism at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's an everywhere kind of man residing in Texas.

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