Chili Bowl winner Rico Abreu stands tall when it matters
It’s been a big week for Rico Abreu, who won the Chili Bowl on Saturday night in Tulsa, Okla., and on Monday was named to a full-time ride with HScott Motorsports in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East for 2015.
Abreu’s victory was an emotional one and raised eyebrows in the racing world, given that he is just 4 feet 4 inches tall. But he drove like a champion in Tulsa and now has an excellent opportunity in NASCAR.
On Tuesday, Abreu talked about his Chili Bowl victory and his plans for the 2015 racing season.
Excerpts from his teleconference follow.
Talk about your hopes and dreams of being in NASCAR and how you see your career laying out ahead of you now?
I think it’s a big step, really. Just because I come from the open wheel world where everyone knows everyone. And there are so many more NASCAR fans that don’t follow dirt racing and don’t know what I do, so I’m really looking forward to it. I don’t know. I think the fans will react a lot differently than the average driver — average-looking driver — coming to NASCAR. I’m excited to see how it goes.
What race car drivers in any division are you friends with? You’ve been around a while and talking to them and hanging out with them.
Yeah, I really got to know Tony (Stewart) through one of my best friends, Kyle Larson. Kyle has made a really big impression in the sport over the last year just with all the success he’s had. I’ve known Kyle for the last six years, and I consider him a brother. His parents really could be my mom and dad just how close we are or how close I am to his family and him.
Will this be your first opportunity to get in a stock car and actually race?
Yes, I’ve never even raced one. Yesterday I just drove it around the parking lot for the first time, a late model. So my whole goal on going to New Smyrna (Fla.) is just getting laps in and making sure I’m comfortable in the race car … that everything is right just so I don’t run into problems down the road where I’m not comfortable. Because you have to be 100 percent in these race cars and you can’t lose concentration when you’re racing about being uncomfortable.
The kind of alterations to the pedals and seats in a stock car, is it any different than what it would be in the sprint cars that you’ve been driving?
Yeah, the sprint car is a lot different because you sit down like you sit in a chair when you sit in a sprint car. So your legs are underneath you. My sprint car, the pedal location, there are foot blocks that allow my feet to reach the pedals. Then the seat is pushed forward about six inches. All the modifications are really simple. Nothing is way off the radar that they did and it’s really safe.
Have you been working hand-in-hand with NASCAR to get prepared for the modified for the K&N races?
Yeah, NASCAR came and saw all the improvements and they’re fine with it all. So it’s pretty cool that they got it all done in one try, and they didn’t have to really change anything. They’re satisfied with all the adjustments that they did. They said everything is safe and looks safe, and I feel safe in the race car so I think that is the big first step.
Can you talk about what things have been like since winning the Chili Bowl on Saturday night?
It’s pretty cool. Saturday was a big night for me just because of all the coverage that the Chili Bowl has gotten and the people that have attended that event Saturday night. I was watching the race in the infield of the track, and I look over and see Roger Penske. It was his first time at the event, and he came and introduced himself, and I asked him what he thought and he said this is unbelievable. And Kurt Busch was there and Danica, and all these people were so intrigued.
A lot of people on Twitter posted throughout the Chili Bowl weekend that someone should give you a shot in NASCAR. Does that give you more confidence going into this deal?
Definitely humbling, that’s for sure. You know, when I grew up I played sports and I wrestled in middle school, and all my friends and classmates kind of outgrew me. I was limited to the things I could do and I became a big race fan. Well, I didn’t even think I could race until I did it for the first time, let alone be so competitive so quickly in my career.
It’s just so cool to have the feeling that people really believe in you and would like to see you achieve. Then let alone winning the Chili Bowl and all the prestigious races I got to win last year. I think a lot of people believe in me, and it gives me a lot of confidence and humbles me. So I’m glad that people can really see who I am and they don’t judge me for what I look like or why I’m doing it. I’m doing it because I’m a racer and I love the sport.