The next “big” name in NASCAR may very well belong to 4-foot-4 tall, 95 lbs. driver Rico Abreu, currently competing full-time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, driving the No. 98 Toyota Tundra for ThorSport Racing. Not only has Abreu won the 2014 USAC Midget car championship, and previously competed in the K&N Pro Series East in 2015, he also won this year’s Chili Bowl for the 2nd year in a row, as well as the Pepsi Nationals in 2015 and 2016.
Born January 30, 1992, with achondroplasia, a genetic disorder that is the most common cause of dwarfism, Abreu began his career racing dirt bikes, but switched over to shifter karts after watching an Outlaw kart race in Vallejo, California, making his official debut in the sport on January 24, 2009, at Lakeport Indoor Speedway. He finished 4th, then scored his first Outlaw win at Cycleland Speedway.
However, it was Kyle Larson who introduced him to sprint cars after the two met a charity karting event hosted at the 1⁄8th-mile asphalt oval Abreu’s father built for him in their backyard, and in 2011. During the year, Rico made his Chili Bowl Nationals debut, along with running his first World of Outlaws sprint car race. Then went on to win the 2011 360 Winged Sprint Car Series Rookie of the Year Award.
Abreu followed this up by clinching Rookie of the Year in the 2012 USAC National Midget Series, while qualifying for the A-main at the Chili Bowl. The next year, he won the Belleville Midget Nationals, the Johnny Key Classic at Ocean Speedway, the 4 Crown Nationals at Eldora Speedway and the USAC Gold Crown at Tri City Speedway. In 2014, he won his first WoO race at theThunderbowl Raceway, and later captured the USAC Honda Midget Series national title.
Abreu was hired by HScott Motorsports on January 20, 2015 to run full-time in the K&N Pro Series East. He made his stock car debut in the Pete Orr Memorial Super Late Model 100 at New Smyrna Speedway later in the week On July 4, 2015, Abreu won his first ever race in the K&N Pro Series East at Columbus Motor Speedway after starting from the pole position, setting a new track record. He also made his Camping World Truck Series debut in the 2015 Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix International Raceway, driving the No. 31 Chevrolet Silverado for NTS Motorsports 2016, he signed a full-time drive for ThorSport Racing, replacing Johnny Sauter who left for GMS Racing.
Because of his height, NASCAR granted Abreu permission to make special modifications to the cockpit area of his racecars, including foot blocks to power the throttle, and pedals and the steering column being lengthened, with the powertrain and a-frame moved 6 inches. For stock cars, the steering column, pedals, and switches were moved, while the remainder of the cockpit remains the same.
Abreu is now set to make his NASCAR debut driving the No. 98 Toyota of ThorSport Racing in the NextEra Energy Resources 250 trucks opener at Daytona International Speedway tonight. Again, the truck has been modified inside the cab by having the pedals placed off the dashboard bar, moving closer to Abreu, and his seat is moved up about 6 inches. The steering wheel is closer to his body because of his short arms.
“NASCAR has approved it all and said it was fine,” Abreu said during a press conference yesterday. “It’s comfortable and safe.”
Although Abreu stated that he did not experience much teasing growing up in California about his size he has been victimized by cyberbullying and now often visits elementary schools preaching acceptance and telling kids to always chase their dreams.
“My parents always pushed me to do things,” he said. “If I knew I wasn’t capable of doing it, I accepted it. But if someone told me I wasn’t capable, I sure as hell don’t accept that.”
Abreu also stated that he would one day love to run the Indy 500, Daytona 500 and the Rolex 24 Hours.”