Who is Rico Abreu? Well, he's the winner of the 2015 Chili Bowl Nationals, for one, which is the single most important dirt track race in the world. More importantly, he's a young four-foot, four-inch barrel of awesome who you should get to know now because he's inevitably going to pop up elsewhere soon.
Last night was the "A-main" feature race of the Chili Bowl, a dirt track midget car race which attracts both up and coming talent as well as seasoned professionals from all levels of racing. Sportscar racer Chris Dyson decided to try it out this year. This year's Chili Bowl served as IndyCar team owner Sarah Fisher's first race since 2010's IndyCar season finale. NASCAR driver Tony Stewart even showed up to drive a tractor to groom the track in between sessions.
Abreu fits solidly in the category of rising stars who come to the Chili Bowl, hoping that success here translates into more opportunities to race. He runs both sprint cars and midgets, with an impressive 55 wins to his name since 2009 and numerous top-five and top-ten finishes.
"If I got a chance to drive stock cars, I would," Abreu said to USA Today. "I'm not sure what's going on there now, but I've got a lot going with sprints and midgets this year."
According to USA Today, Rico Abreu has been discussing a move to either Late Models or the NASCAR K&N East Series. Since the Chili Bowl is held in the offseason, people from all levels and forms of racing will be watching. If you want to move up in oval racing, there isn't a better opportunity to showcase your talent than the Chili Bowl.
The cars at the Chili Bowl may be called "midgets," but to think their small shape implies that they're easier to drive would be about as far from the truth as you can get. Weighing only about a thousand pounds and making around 400 horsepower, these cars can be an absolute beast to handle. They take most turns at opposite lock, carefully balancing the tail end of the car so that it doesn't whip around on them to cause a spin.
Rico Abreu is a "little person," but he's never let that hold him back. He told the Des Moines Register that he used to say his only limitation was not being tall enough to go on amusement park rides. (He's since grown a few inches since then, so roller coasters are now a go.) Abreu started racing go-karts with friends at age 15, but larger cars often need some modification for him to use.
Despite the midget cars' small size, several modifications had to be made to bring everything within reach in Abreu's car. Blocks add height to the pedals in all his cars. In his sprint car, the A-frame behind his seat was moved up several inches to put him within reach of the wheel and pedals, as Abreu explained to KELO.
Clearly, the modifications work.
At the 2015 Chili Bowl Nationals, Abreu worked his way into the final A-main race, where he passed race leader Bryan Clauson on the low line of the oval during lap 22 of 55. Four-time Chili Bowl winner Kevin Swindell started to catch Abreu's car towards the end of the race, but by then, it was too late. Abreu and Swindell had to pick through backmarkers, but in the end, Abreu's smooth, quick driving ensured that he ran away with the win.
Abreu described his race as such to Sprint Source:
I just tried to stay as patient as I could. You know the race is a not a long race, but it is a long race. For a few laps I just kind of got after it just to see where we were at and I hung with [Bryan Clauson] pretty good. I don't know how hard he was racing, but when the time was right I pulled the trigger and gave him a slide job and was waiting for him to slide me back. We dragged raced each other into three and I came out with the lead.
Additionally, Abreu's win Toyota their first-ever Chili Bowl win. Toyota Racing Development President David Wilson called it "one of our most significant victories ever." For car owner Keith Kunz, this was the first Chili Bowl "Golden Driller" trophy earned in one of his cars since 2002.
Others in the racing world are starting to take notice of Abreu's talent. Fellow Californian and NASCAR Sprint Cup racer Kyle Larson helped Abreu gain popularity in California, telling the Des Moines Register in August of last year:
He really doesn't have that long of a career — that in itself is pretty amazing to see how well he's done. His size, too, makes it even cooler. He's a great person, great driver and he's done a lot of good things this year. I'm sure he'll win even bigger races and rack up the wins.
One usually quiet voice spoke up out of nowhere on Rico Abreu's win: race team owner Chip Ganassi. Ganassi has only ever made one tweet, ever, wishing everyone a happy new year at the end of 2014—yet he felt the need to point out Abreu's win:
The man has spoken. If Ganassi says Abreu is going places, who are we to question that? Hopefully this means he's going to the next level in racing soon.