Aramendia Leads Modifieds of Mayhem Tour into Five Flags Speedway, His Home Away from Home
By Chuck Corder
The asphalt short tracks around Texan Joe Aramendia have been swallowed up whole.
In fact, the lone asphalt racetrack that remains in the Lone Star State is Texas Motor Speedway, home to NASCAR’s annual pilgrimages. But, as Aramendia put it, “they only race twice a year.”
The 53-year-old hasn’t let life’s setbacks keep him parked, though. Aramendia has become a familiar face at Five Flags Speedway in recent years, winning two Modifieds features the last two seasons.
Aramendia, who hails from Seguin, Texas, just down the road from San Antonio, will once again make the 11-hour haul this week to compete in the Modifieds of Mayhem Tour 50-lap feature Friday night in Pensacola.
“I wanted more competition, better competition,” Aramendia explained. “And Five Flags is one of the most notable racetracks around.
“I like the technicalities in the track. If you can figure them out, you can be fast. Part of the challenges in getting around the track is managing tire wear and staying out of the inside and outside walls — how quick can you get to the inside wall as you approach Turn 1, that type of stuff. I love all of it. It’s a driver’s track.”
Aramendia enters Friday’s 50 lapper as the Modifieds of Mayhem points leader thanks to his win last month at Montgomery (Ala.) Motor Speedway.
Aramendia and the Mods will be joined Friday at the famed half-mile asphalt oval by the Faith Chapel Outlaw Stocks, The Dock on Pensacola Beach Sportsmen and the Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks.
Gates open at 4 p.m. Friday and admission is $15 for adults; $12 for seniors, military and students; $5 for children ages 6 to 11; free for kids 5 and under.
No stranger to the track’s unique nuances, Aramendia is in a committed long-distance relationship with Five Flags. In addition to Modifieds, he has also raced late models at Pensacola’s high banks.
“I enjoy the challenges of Pensacola itself, not to mention the fact that we’re racing 800 horsepower machines on 8-inch tires,” Aramendia said. “And, we’re doing it just above the times that late models do it on 10-inch tires. The car weight is the same amount as late models, except we’re 300 horsepower more than late models.
“It makes it fun to drive. There’s a challenge in that. Then, you put that together with the fact of the racetrack itself — Pensacola is a tire eater — it raises the difficulty up.”
Just like every driver, Aramendia has taken his lumps at Five Flags. But his willingness to learn the track’s idiosyncrasies has also earned him trips to Victory Lane.
In both 2015 and 2016, Aramendia won 50-lap Modifieds of Mayhem features in Pensacola. In a strange symmetry, both victories came during the track’s annual Demolition Derby in early August.
He has also posted several top-10 finishes at the Modifieds Snowball Derby the last four Decembers, including coming home with runner-up honors four months ago.
“On a restart, myself and (Jeff) Choquette), we spun the heck out of our tires and (Korey) Ruble went ahead of us on the outside,” said Aramendia, who led a handful of laps before Ruble overtook him for the win. “It would’ve taken us another five or eight laps to run (Ruble) down.
“But they’re not supposed to be easy to win. Derby weekend hasn’t worked out for me. It ain’t over yet, though.”
When the calendar turned to 2017, Aramendia had no plans to run the full Modifieds of Mayhem schedule, which consists of nearly 10 races at short tracks across the southeast. He circled just the Pensacola dates.
But, after getting his year off to a victorious start at Montgomery, Aramendia is already thinking about readjusting his outlook.
“I didn’t have any intention of running for points,” he said. “But, now, if we get through Five Flags with a good finish, or possibly a win, we might have to chase the Modifieds all over the country.”
It’s a daunting venture for Aramendia, as the tour has expanded its schedule to include Crisp Motorsports Park in Cordele, Ga., as well as famed Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
The travel is not easy on Aramendia, who caravans with a small team that includes his brother James Aramendia and Homer Pitner, his crew chief. In previous seasons, the team has canceled plans to race in Pensacola because weather forecasts earlier in the week predicted rain.
“It’s hard to drive the 700 miles and then have to turn around and drive back without racing,” Aramendia said. “I sure do love to race and I want to make ’em count when we spend that much fuel to get there.
“Homer and my brother, who drives the truck and spots for me, those two guys are always with me. And any others, it’s just whoever can get off work at that time.”
After the race’s outcome Friday night, Aramendia’s team will make the long drive back to Seguin and, hopefully, arrive mid-morning on Saturday.
“It’s hard to keep people away from their families for that long,” he said.
Aramendia isn’t ready to hang up his fire suit, though. His dreams and burning passion to drive racecars as a kid never came to fruition until his early 20s.
After starting in Bombers in 1988, Aramendia quickly moved to Late Models and earned his stripes before finding a level of consistency that has spanned three decades.
“Once I started, it was over with,” he said plainly. “I still can’t figure out a way to shake that bug. I’d have a lot more pocket change if I could figure that out.”
On Friday, he’ll have to figure out Five Flags once again. Despite his recent success the last two years, Aramendia takes nothing for granted.
“I wish there was a magic potion. I’d buy as much as I could get,” he joked. “I think we have a really good baseline setup. I always have a fast car in Pensacola. I’m not expecting to go there and be slow by any means. I expect to contend for a top-five finish and, hopefully, a win.
“I have never crawled into a car if I didn’t think I had a chance to win. I’ll race hard and get the best finish I can get. Hopefully, the wheels stay on the car. You never know what’s waiting for you.”