By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
For this week’s edition of Climbing the Ladder, Seth Eggert sat down with ThorSport Racing driver Rico Abreu. Abreu is a 24-year-old NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver. Abreu suffers from achondroplasia, which is a genetic disorder and the most common cause of dwarfism. As a result, Abreu needs modifications to his truck in order to reach the petals. Abreu drives the Carolina Nut Company, Curb Records, Safelite No. 98 Toyota Tundra. Abreu is campaigning for both the 2016 Camping World Truck Series Championship and Rookie of the Year honors.
Seth Eggert: How did you become interested in motorsports?
Rico Abreu: I had some neighbors that lived close by that raced go-karts, and I started following their careers, travelling with them, and going to the go-kart races. Then I started racing a go-kart myself a year later. I had a little bit of success in the go-karts and became really competitive.
Before I started racing I played Little League Baseball and I wrestled it throughout middle school. When I got to high school, it was just harder for me to compete at a high level, and that’s the only way I wanted to compete, with the best players. I think once I found racing, I really fell in love with the sport, and I understood that I could do this just like anyone else could with the little modifications that they made for me to race.
SE: Where and when was your first race? What was the result?
RA: My first race was in Lakeport, California, in northern California, at a little go-kart track. I was 15 years old and I finished fourth.
SE: Who would you consider your mentor?
RA: Right now, definitely Matt Crafton. He is someone I am really going to for a lot of the knowledge. He is a driver in the Camping World Truck Series. He’s been racing trucks for 16 or 17 years now. I feel like he has a lot of knowledge, he is very detailed about what I’m doing wrong or what I need to be doing to be fast. To me he is very helpful.
I also have a very good friendship with him outside of the racetrack. We can go and do some fun things together. It’s not all about racing when it comes to hanging out with Matt. I think that’s a healthy relationship to have.
SE: What or who inspires or motivates you?
RA: Definitely my Dad, he’s always there for me. He’s really pushed me to have all of this success. He’s the one to give me all of the advice, when I’m down or when I’m up. He makes sure that I’m a very balanced person with my emotions. It’s easy to be stressed out for these kinds of races, and he tends to keep me very relaxed and feel good about myself.
SE: Can you describe the adjustments that are made to your cars and trucks for fans that may not understand?
RA: For my Camping World Safelite Toyota Tundra, the modifications that were made, the pedals are about six inches closer than the average Truck Series driver. And the seat is about six inches forward, closer to the steering wheel. It’s all at NASCAR requirements, NASCAR approved everything last year when I ran my first truck race at Phoenix International Raceway.
The guys here at ThorSport Racing have done a great job of making safe and actually really, really nice cockpit inside the truck. I’m very comfortable, and that’s what makes if fun to drive for ThorSport.
SE: At what track would you want to win at the most?
RA: Right now, I just want to have some good finishes, I think you need to have some good finishes and position yourself before you win. But, if there was any track where I’d like to (win), I really like Bristol. That would be a fun race to win.
SE: Describe your transition from dirt racing to pavement racing:
RA: The biggest transition, car wise, is the weight difference. The dirt cars I run are 1400 lbs, and the trucks are 3200 lbs. So there is a big difference in weight there. There is a big difference in horsepower. The trucks are 650 horsepower, and the sprint cars are 880 horsepower.
The races I run are about 30 lap races, compared to a 200-lap Camping World Truck Series race. The race lengths are a lot longer in Truck Series, and then you have live pit stops where you get a set of Goodyear tires and some Sunoco Racing Fuel.
SE: You have won the Chili Bowl Nationals two years in a row, how did it feel to accomplish such a feat?
RA: Incredible. It’s the biggest open-wheel race of the year besides the Indy 500. I feel like it is one of the most competitive races, and there are a lot of different drivers from each series. You have IndyCar drivers, Sprint Car drivers, Sprint Cup NASCAR drivers, NHRA drivers, RallyCross drivers there. It’s the place to be in the second week of January. It’s right in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It’s an indoor race. It’s just an incredible feeling to win it two years in a row, let alone win it once.
SE: Are you going to try for a three peat?
RA: Yes, definitely. I think we’ll have a real good shot, driving for a great team, Keith Kunz Motorsports. They have a partnership with Toyota, and this year Safelite Autoglass was on the car for their first time. To win it for them was an incredible opportunity as well.
SE: You come from dirt racing, which was the origin of NASCAR. Do you feel that is an advantage for you compared to drivers who have never raced on dirt before?
RA: I think so; it can be at times. Especially my driving style. I tend to search around the racetrack instead of focusing in on one line, and feeling what comfort there is for your truck speed wise. When the tires wear off, the trucks tend to get really loose, and I feel like that I like to drive a looser car be able to control it a lot easier that way.
SE: How are you going to prepare for tracks that you have not had the opportunity to race at or visit as of yet?
RA: Matt Crafton, getting his knowledge at the tracks, and there is a great program that has been created online, iRacing. It’s basically a simulator on your computer at home. I have that as well to get some on track time.
SE: Has the caution clock benefited you and your team?
RA: It has and it hasn’t at times. I don’t really see it as an advantage or a disadvantage for us.
SE: How are you going to spend the down time in between Truck Series races this season? How are you going to keep yourself occupied?
RA: I’ve been racing my Sprint Car. I have some races coming up, and I will be at a local Sprint Car race.
SE: Is it refreshing to have that break, or is it frustrating?
RA: I think it can be. But I also think it can’t be. I think it’s good for our team to get home and regroup when they go three or four weeks in a row like that, and to build some new trucks. I think it’s good for me to get away and just relax, soak it all in. And then to get to a Sprint Car race, especially if you’re not running to good Truck, to try to get your confidence back up. If you’re running really well in the truck, then you get to the Sprint Car race with a lot of confidence.
SE: Fill in the blank, in a year from now you will be?
RA: I would like to be in another year of the Camping World Truck Series and hopefully winning.