If youíve been to a high-end sprint car or midget show in
the last couple of years, youíve likely seen him race Ė and, chances
are, he blew your head off. If you havenít, stay tuned to his
21-year-old Californian ďSpeed RicoĒ Abreu is red
hot, just a rung or two behind his buddy Kyle Larson on the lofty
ladder to racing stardom. Amazingly, Rico is also, as racing
journalist Dennis Mattish puts it, ďthe fastest little person in the
Equally amazing, though, is how fast Rico has come up
to ďspeedĒ in some of the worldís most challenging racing. Before
2008 he had never stepped foot in a race car Ė even a go-kart, save
in his back yard. But in January of this year, fresh back from
sprint car racing in Australia, he received the loudest applause in
the house at the Chili Bowl. He was on his hurried way to a
spectacular 2013 season, dancing on the clay all over this country Ė
Canyon, Belleville, Knoxville, Tulare, and on and on. Heís been back
and forth to the Midwest like a ping pong ball.
To say this
kid is unusual Ė and delightful - is an understatement. He took time
out with me for a lap or so last week, and we talked about where he
came from, what the dynamics of a little person in racing actually
are, and what he would like to accomplish in the future.
Hereís what he had to say:
Iím out here in St. Helena,
California. We have a family vineyard out here, but my Dad is really
in the vineyard- management business. He manages the field work for
26 other ranches. I work with him some, but honestly Iím off racing
most of the time.
There was no racing at all in my family. We
did have some family friends who raced karts, and I thought that was
cool. I first saw that when I was eight. But then one night I got to
go to Calistoga and see the 410s. Wow. I had no idea something like
that existed. Jac Haudenschild! I loved it. It stuck.
hooked. I pushed and pushed about racing, and I guess my parents
were okay with it. For Christmas of 2008 they got me a real kart. I
have to stress that we knew totally nothing about racing, but we
were able to hook up with some good people. But, you know, even
today I donít know many people from the racing community. Especially
Things went quick from there. It was from
karts to 360s to 410s to midgets and then back and forth. I started
racing a lot and that really helped me along. Brent Kaeding was a
mentor in early sprint car days, and we were based in his shop. But
I think he stopped telling me everything when I got faster. Oh boy.
That comment will get him going!
I never got intimidated by
racing, but I have had a problem with overthinking it. When things
didnít go well, Iíd get very down on myself. I wanted to be
successful so quickly. We had so little background I didnít
understand all the ups and downs. But I have progressed, and itís a
treat. Itís cool to be called the fastest little person.
think I can keep up the progress as long as I keep racing just as
much as I can. I try to compare myself to Kyle Larson. Weíre close.
He tells me just to be myself more.
This year has been a big
boost. My decisions are better and so are communications. And Iíve
been surrounded with great people Ė like Keith Kunz with the midget
and Paul Silva with the sprint car.
|In 2012 Rico popped into
Belle-Clair, Illinois, for a Midget show. He won
despite two trips to the back of the pack in the
feature. As Joyce Standridge recalls, there were
some serious slide jobs along the way and the
grandstands went wild. Thatís Uncle Jimmy Abreu on
the left, Keith Kunz on the right. From
DID YOU SEE THAT? Unforgettable Moments in Midwest
Open-Wheel Racing, by Joyce Standridge.
(Allen Horcher Photo)
As a little person, I donít think I have any
special advantage or disadvantage. Iím comfortable racing anyone.
Weíre all the same when we buckle in and do what we have to do. But
Iíll tell you 410s are the toughest. Theyíre my favorite. The guy
who wins has the biggest heart.
I donít think Iím any
different in strength than anyone. If you run a 30- lapper non-stop
on a track that is heavy from rain, it can wear anyone out. Iíve
talked to Kyle about that. He can do it two or three times a day.
The trick is relaxation and breathing. Iíve got that down. I donít
work out regularly; I race regularly.
There is actually one
advantage to having my structure. Iím probably safer than others in
a race car. Iím lower, the seat is a little more forward, and my
feet are more away from the torque tube.
We donít really have
to do much to the cockpits, especially the midgets, but we do put in
six-inch pedal risers in the sprint car.
I havenít given a
lot of thought to the future. Let the river take me where it flows.
What I have set my mind to, though, is to have people admire what I
do. I want to prove that anyone can do what they love if they put
their heart and soul in it.
Right now I just want to keep
racing. I want to run 90 shows a year and win a bunch of them. I
believe I have the ability. I do love sprint cars, but I guess that
Indy Car racing and Sprint Cup have to be a superior goal for any
racer. Iíd like to get there, but Iíd never attempt to buy my way
in. No way. And no way would I want to be there because I am a
little person. I would want to go in just like Kyle Larson Ė because
people could see that I was just that good.