A.J. Allmendinger’s journey to America’s top open-wheel racing series started while pedaling BMX bicycles at age 5.
Three years later, he switched from two wheels to four, making his quarter-midget debut, and then followed the modern path to this country’s premier open-wheel series. Allmendinger won championships in go-karts, the Barber Dodge Pro Series and the Toyota Atlantic Series before advancing to Champ Car.
He was Champ Car’s rookie of the year in 2004 and quickly became the series’ top American driver. He was exactly the type of American racer the series needed — well spoken, entertaining and, most importantly, fast.
Allmendinger won five Champ Car races in 2006 and finished third in the points, so the racing world was shocked when his career took a sudden and unexpected turn. At 25 years of age, the native of Los Gatos, Calif., decided to leave open-wheel racing and drive a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car.
“It was a difficult time in open-wheel racing,” Allmendinger said about his decision to go stock-car racing. “For me, at that point in 2006, things were going well. I was winning Champ Car races and felt like we were really competitive. But at the same time, it was a tough time because the two series — IRL and Champ Car — were split apart. Ultimately, I kind of saw the writing on the wall on where Champ Car at least was going.
“I had to make a tough decision and, fortunately enough, I had an option to go try a different type of racing with the Red Bull Cup team.”
Allmendinger had made a handful of starts in the NASCAR Truck Series, but heading into the 2007 season he was a true stock-car racing rookie with a start-up team — Red Bull Racing — that was aligned with a new manufacturer — Toyota.
“I guess if I could do it all over again and the choice was there to race trucks or Nationwide, to learn, I would have definitely taken that,” Allmendinger said. “That was something I wanted to do anyway, but honestly beggars can’t be choosey, and when we had the opportunity to jump right into Cup I had to take it.
“It was a difficult couple of years trying to learn to drive these race cars, especially with a brand new race team and with Toyota being a brand new manufacturer.”