Barber Dodge Driver Profile: A.J. Allmendinger He's only 20 years old, but already A.J. Allmendinger feels the pressure to perform at the top levels of motorsports. Raised in San Jose, CA, Anthony James Allmendinger has known since he was a ...
Barber Dodge Driver Profile: A.J. Allmendinger
He's only 20 years old, but already A.J. Allmendinger feels the pressure to perform at the top levels of motorsports.
Raised in San Jose, CA, Anthony James Allmendinger has known since he was a toddler that racing was the road he'd travel."I don't care what you call him," Greg Allmendinger told wife Karen before his birth,"but his initials have to be A.J." (Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt was always the elder Allmendinger's hero.)
Dad had been racing (sprints and micro-midgets) and the family served as push-car drivers for sprints at their northern California area tracks, so A.J. grew up amidst the sport."I started racing BMX bicycles when I was five, then moved into quarter-midgets and then into karting, which I've been doing ever since."
While the 2001 season was Allmendinger's first time racing cars, he's been one of the guys to beat in 125cc shifter karts." Last year I ran the Skip Barber Formula Dodge National Championship Series and finished second by two points. I missed the championship by just that much. It was still a phenomenal year for my first year in cars, though," he noted.
A.J.-- someday we'll call him' the real A.J.'-- is contesting the Barber Dodge Pro Series this year, and hopes to do some Toyota Atlantic testing and races as well, as he moves up CART's progressive ladder to Champ Cars. He's off to a great start, winning the first race at Sebring in March. His goals are to win the title, of course, move on to Toyota Atlantic and then to Champ Cars.
"Right now, it's just family and friends supporting me. I don't have a main sponsor yet," A.J. admitted,"I think I have the year covered with a couple of companies I can't mention right now. But really, right now it's a couple of guys that have watched me in karting who are helping out."
A.J.'s parents have been the prime motivators for his career."My parents have run out of money to support my racing. Last year tapped us out, really. We spent $70-80,000 we don't have and had to mortgage the house to do that, to move to the next level."
In fact, the Allmendinger family moved from San Jose after living there 18 years."Housing got too expensive, so we moved to [rural] Hollister. My mom still works in San Jose and it's a 45-minute drive without traffic, about an hour and a half in the morning." What some folks will do to keep their kids in tires, clutches and parts!
Being named to the 11th annual Team USA Scholarship this winter enabled A.J. to compete in New Zealand's International Formula Ford Championship. Up against teammate Bryan Sellers and a host of Kiwis and Australians who had experience on circuits where that duo competed as rookies, Allmendinger had a lot to learn.
Allmendinger and Sellers traveled to New Zealand on Christmas Day, tested and competed throughout the month of January."I had a good time but didn't get great results. I learned a lot, though. I was quick every weekend but I didn't adapt to the car as quickly or as well as I had hoped. It seemed like I had bad luck every weekend, but I still came back with two thirds, a fourth and a fifth, not enough to contend for the title," as did Sellers.
A.J. is hoping some American companies sit up and take notice of the fact that he's quick and durable. Certainly Champ Car driver Paul Tracy has observed Allmendinger's prowess, placing him on Paul Tracy Karting's squad at its early 2000 inception."The team I'd been with kept telling me they'd put me in a car, but by the time I was 18, it still wasn't happening. Then Paul called," he said,"and I knew the exposure was going to be great, particularly with his name recognition.
"It took me about a minute to say yes. I was actually at the other team's shop when he called, so I had to be cool about it." A.J. will contest 5-6 races for Paul Tracy Karting this season," but it will probably be my last year racing karts. I'll drive them to keep my skills sharp, but most Atlantic team owners don't want you out there racing something else."
Allmendinger's first Barber Dodge Pro Series race was at Mid-Ohio last August."Unfortunately, I crashed," he laughed."I was quick all weekend, qualifying 8th. One of the big things I'm having to learn is car setup, so all weekend I worked on getting my car good. But it rained Sunday morning and washed all the rubber off the track. I missed the setup by a mile and, with the grass being wet from the rain, I just touched the curbing and it set me off for a ride. It was all learning, you know?"
One week later in Elkhart Lake, WI, with minimal track time at lengthy Road America, A.J. qualified 22nd and finished seventh,"so I was learning pretty quick." His third and final 2001 BDPS appearance netted sixth-place laurels at the Vancouver, British Columbia street race (his first street course experience). His first BDPS win at Sebring in March showed just how much A.J. has accomplished.
"For the rest of this year, my goals are to contest for the Barber Dodge Pro Series championship. Here, it's about luck. You have to hope everything goes your way and you get the setup right," Allmendinger revealed."I'd like to take the Rookie of the Year title this year because then I'd have something to fall back on, because you get a free BDPS season the following year. The Pro series has so much to offer, it's amazing.
"But, really, I want to contend for the title and move to Atlantics next year with a good team." During the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend, Allmendinger spent most of his time in the Toyota Atlantic compound, talking to team owners about his prospects for 2003."I'm going to work on that all year, go to as many races as possible to talk with the Atlantic people, even if we're not racing that weekend. We'll be at eight races with the Atlantics and Champ Cars, and that's when I can show the owners my goods."
For the long term, A.J. has the CART FedEx Championship Series in his sights."If you count this year, I'd like to be racing Champ Cars in three years. That's my goal: be there by 2005. This is what I'm putting my focus on to do with my life. I'm just going to make it happen."
A.J. has few hobbies outside racing."I like bowling and I just got into racquetball. I try to go to the gym 4-5 times a week and, other than that, I've gotten into music lately because it relaxes me. I like Linkin Park and some hip-hop. I try to keep up with racing around the world, so I'm constantly on the web checking it out or reading magazines. I just have to know what's happening."
Paul Tracy has taught A.J. Allmendinger a lot about racing." He's totally focused and, like Paul, I'm aggressive on the track and I give 100%. At the end of the day, even if it doesn't go right, Paul can't say he left something out there. That's my way, too."
Tracy is giving his protg a few other lessons, as well. During CART Sneak Preview at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Tracy coerced the kid into carrying his helmet all through the four-day flog."He's preparing me for racing's mind games. I had to go with him to all of the photo booths and hang out." At one point, someone asked if A.J. was Tracy's public relations liaison.
"No!" A.J. Allmendinger protested."I'm a driver." Exactly.