When asked what’s on his bucket list not related to racing, the 23-year-old’s first answer – like the three NASCAR Next drivers before him – was skydiving.
Rico Abreu is not like any other young race car drivers.
The St. Helena, Calif.-native is 4-foot-4, a result of living with achondroplasia, a bone-growth disorder not shared by anyone else in his family.
That doesn’t impede Abreu, who won the 2015 Chili Bowl. He is scheduled to race in about 120 races in seven different classes in 2015.
When Abreu spoke with NASCAR Talk, he was more than week removed from winning his first stock car race, in the K&N East Pro Series at Columbus (Ohio) Motor Speedway.
This Q&A has been edited and condensed
NASCAR Talk: What’s the most races you’ve ever been in in one week?
Rico Abreu: I ran five in a row, five nights in a row. That was earlier in June in the USAC-Indiana Midget week. It’s five nights throughout Indianapolis race tracks.
NT: How tiring was that?
Abreu: It wasn’t too bad because in open-wheel racing, they start around 4:30 p.m. and then they end up finishing around 10:30 to 11 p.m. You kind of have that morning and early afternoon to relax and not be too hard on yourself where K&N or NASCAR races is a little bit different where you have to be up at 8 o’clock for a driver’s meeting at nine and practice at 10:30, qualifying at 1 o’clock then you race anywhere from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
NT: What were you doing when you got the call about being part of the current NASCAR Next class?
Abreu: I believe I was at a sprint car race, and (I got) a text and it asked if we’d be willing to find the time and I was really happy to be apart of the NASCAR Next group. I wanted them to understand my schedule and how busy I am with my racing … I have 120 races this year on my schedule, so it’s really hard to get away and do something with them. Everyone worked really good with everyone at NASCAR Next and they worked out my schedule so it all works out where I can be at a majority of the events, but there’s only a few I can’t get to.
NT: What’s the worst accident you’ve ever been in?
Abreu: I crashed at Sun Prairie, Wisconsin (Angell Park Speedway) and wound up with a broken collarbone. That was probably the hardest crash I’ve ever had. A guy moved up on me and kind of pinched me into the wall and our cars are open-wheeled, the sprint cars, so it’s really easy to flip and be in a really vicious, violent crash. The walls are really short there, so I easily went over the wall and kept going outside of the track about 100 feet.
Abreu: At that point you’re hanging on, and once I was done crashing, I went to get out and right when I got out my collarbone instantly started being in pain, so I knew something was wrong. I had the guy that works on our car drive me to the hospital and got some X-rays and they told me it was broken. So I headed back to Indianapolis. It was about six-hour drive, drove all the way back to Indianapolis. Went to OrthoIndy to a Dr. Kevin Scheid, he takes care of a lot of IndyCar drivers. It was a pretty crazy week, because I went in there Monday morning at 9 a.m. and he said to come back at 1 o’clock and I was in surgery by 1:15 and he fixed my collar bone; plated it, screwed it and then I was actually home by 2:45. It was about an hour and a half and I was already fixed up. I took about 15 days off, I went back for a check-up and he said I was good to go. and I started racing again.
NT: What do you consider your theme song?
Abreu: I’ve always liked the song “Redneck Yacht Club” by Craig Morgan. I just like the lyrics to it and I don’t know, I’ve always liked the song. I know all the words. I sing it every now and then when I’m in a good mood.
NT: I know you got your start racing motorcycles, but what’s your earliest clear memory related to racing?
Abreu: Probably about 1998 or ’99 I went to a World of Outlaw sprint car race at Calistoga Speedway, about 10 minutes from my house. Jac Haudenschild won the race and he was running the top lane by the wall and everyone was on the bottom, so it was really exciting to watch and that’s where I fell in love with the sport of open-wheel racing.
NT: What do you remember about the first time you got on a motorcycle?
Abreu: I remember getting a motorcycle for Christmas. I don’t know how old I was. We have a lot of vineyards in our backyard, obviously, I’m from wine country, so we live on a vineyard. I remember being able to ride it through the vineyard rows and then out back behind a pond at our house. I remember I took it out through the mud and got it all muddy the first day I got it. My dad wasn’t too happy about that.
NT: Do you consider that the best Christmas gift you ever got?
Abreu: Yeah, I’d say so.
NT: Since your dad (David Abreu) runs a vineyard, do you consider yourself a wine person?
Abreu: Yeah, I’m into it quite a bit. I enjoy being able to be around him and everyone at our ranch. We have a couple of different ranches and he has about 20 ranches that he takes care of, so any chance I’m home, I’m definitely outside with them. I really enjoy getting to go to dinner with my dad, just understanding it more and more, the wine side of it and all the different kinds of wines.
NT: What’s your favorite kind of wine?
Abreu: I like some white wine. My dad doesn’t make any white wine, but a couple of his clients do that are really good. There’s a case of Sauvignon blanc that I really enjoy trying at dinner with him. He’s always into trying new wines or drinking really vintage Cabernet from the early 1900s, which is different for me because it’s got a different taste being an older wine with all this sediment in the wine. That’s something he enjoys doing, drinking an older bottle of wine at dinner with the family.
NT: What’s it like to grow up in wine country?
Abreu: It’s a beautiful area. I grew up on a ranch, so I always had a lot of stuff to do. We had a lot of livestock on our ranch. I raised market hogs for 4-H and FFA (Future Farmers of America) for 10 years. I spent a lot of time doing that. We didn’t just raise them for one show a year, we raised them year around for like 10 shows.
“I got five miles down the road and all of a sudden I’m getting all these texts,” Stewart said Wednesday after being elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. “I’m going, ‘How do all these people know we won that fast?’ It wasn’t about us, it was about Clint’s deal. Finally got another five miles down the road, had a real signal. Somebody goes ‘Look at Twitter.”
That’s when the co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing saw the video of Bowyer, still wearing his helmet, furiously throwing both fists at Newman, who still sat in his car.
Bowyer was angry with Newman after contact between them on the cool-down lap after the race had sent Bowyer’s No. 14 Ford nose-first into the wall.
“That kid has got to take his helmet off if he’s going to fight,” Stewart said. “Kids leave their helmets on to fight. Men take their helmets off and they fight. If you’re going to fight, fight.”
While still on the highway Saturday night, Stewart let Bowyer know his thoughts on his fighting form.
“Listen, take your helmet off if you’re going to get into a fight,” Stewart texted Bowyer.
Bowyer responded by saying “I didn’t have time.”
Stewart, who has a long history of driver altercations and arguments, then offered his driver more encouraging wisdom.
“Don’t lose that passion to fight for what you believe in,” Stewart said.
Social media salutes NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2020
Congrats @Bobby_Labonte .. I’ve raced against you a lot and you are the definition of a Hall Of Famer.. First a fabricator then a crew member and finally a GREAT Champion race car driver.. https://t.co/gEGjW4J7o0
This makes my freaking day!!!! Bobby is on the phone with his dad. They’re so proud and excited!!! We love you @Bobby_Labonte! Everyone’s favorite uncle is in the Hall!!!!!!!! Ahhhhhh!!!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/BelTzdHx0F
Buddy Baker not only goes in as a #DAYTONA500 champion & winner of the Firecracker 400, but his 177.602mph average speed driving the ‘Grey Ghost’ in the 1980 DAYTONA 500 is still the record for Fastest Winning Speed in the DAYTONA 500. pic.twitter.com/Jr2pAHTlj4
Nate Ryan cast a ballot Wednesday for the NASCAR Hall of Fame as NBC Sports’ digital representative.
It’s the 11th consecutive year of voting for Ryan, who is one of 59 members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame voting panel (including one online vote determined by fans; two voters, Ricky Rudd and Waddell Wilson, recused themselves because they were on the ballot).
A maximum of five votes may be cast from a list of 20 nominees (this was the first year in which Ryan voted for fewer than five)
His ballot for the 11th class (followed by his ballot for each of the preceding 10 years, which included six at USA TODAY Sports):
Tony Stewart: Three Cup championships, 49 victories and two Brickyard 400s (plus an IndyCar championship) are a testament to his boundless talent, but “Smoke” also has left a mark as an alluring and highly quotable superstar and a respected team owner. His irascible personality and tenacious grit provided some of NASCAR’s best moments of the past two decades.
Buddy Baker: The winner of the 1980 Daytona 500 and 1970 Southern 500 was one of NASCAR’s home run hitters, counting several major wins among his 19 career victories on the premier circuit. One of NASCAR’s greatest ambassadors Baker also became a beloved broadcaster on TV and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
Waddell Wilson: Perhaps the greatest across-the-board garage resume on this year’s ballot with three championships and 109 victories as an engine builder and 19 wins (including three Daytona 500s) as a crew chief.
Joe Gibbs: Nine NASCAR titles (four in Cup; five in Xfinity) and his four-car team remains the class of the premier circuit. Deserves to be elected in the wake of contemporaries Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress, Jack Roush and Roger Penske being elected the last few years.
2020 Landmark Award: Ralph Seagraves
Ryan’s previous NASCAR Hall of Fame ballots:
2010: Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Junior Johnson, David Pearson, Bill France Jr.
2011: Pearson, Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Lee Petty
2012: Waltrip, Yarborough, Dale Inman, Raymond Parks, Curtis Turner
2013: Fireball Roberts, Turner, Fred Lorenzen, Herb Thomas, Tim Flock
2014: Roberts, Turner, Lorenzen, Flock, Joe Weatherly
2015: Lorenzen, Turner, Weatherly, O. Bruton Smith, Rick Hendrick
2016: Turner, Smith, Hendrick, Ray Evernham, Bobby Isaac
2017: Hendrick, Evernham, Benny Parsons, Parks, Red Byron
2018: Evernham, Byron, Robert Yates, Alan Kulwicki, Buddy Baker
2019: Jeff Gordon, Kulwicki, Baker, Davey Allison, Jack Roush
2020: Tony Stewart, Baker, Waddell Wilson, Joe Gibbs
“It’s very humbling, to be honest,” Stewart said on NASCAR America presents MotorMouths. “There are so many great people in this sport. … to be part of it and have all the great names that are in and the people that were going to be in in the future we’re going to be with, it’s an unbelievable feeling. But it is extremely humbling.
“A lot of it is really mixed emotions because I’m still in race car driver mode and car owner mode. I’m not even thinking about hall of fames. To be inducted earlier this year into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America and now going into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, it’s just a very humbling experience.”
When asked what he would say to voters who didn’t select him, Stewart gave a typical Stewart answer.
“I don’t know but when I find out, I’m going to throw eggs at their front door tonight,” Stewart joked.
A native of Columbus, Indiana, Stewart’s election comes in his first year on the ballot. He retired from NASCAR competition at the end of 2016 with 49 Cup Series wins and three titles as a driver (2002, ’05 and ’11).
In 2014 he earned a fourth title in his role as co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing.
After being crowned the 1997 Indy Racing League champion, Stewart split time in 1998 between the IRL and the Xfinity Series, competing for Joe Gibbs Racing. He moved up to Cup in 1999 and claimed the Rookie of the Year title after earning three wins. He was the first rookie to win a race since Davey Allison in 1987.
Stewart won two Brickyard 400s, four July Daytona races and eight road course races, including his final Cup win in June 2016 at Sonoma Raceway.
Stewart is one of the most prolific Cup drivers to never win the Daytona 500, joining fellow Hall of Famer Mark Martin in that category.
Nicknamed “Smoke,” Stewart is also one of four drivers to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in the same day. He did it twice, in 1999 and 2001.
Stewart’s election also comes 27 years after he attended his first NASCAR race, the 1992 Cup finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway, as a 21-year-old wearing a $2,000 suit and trying to “impress people.”
“I thought like I was wasting my time being down there,” Stewart said in 2016. “I thought there was no way I was going to get an opportunity to come do this.”
Stewart will be joined in the Hall of Fame by Gibbs. Stewart raced for Gibbs in Cup from 1999-2009, and Labonte, his teammate at JGR until 2005.
“I couldn’t think of a better day than my boss, Joe Gibbs, or my teammate, Bobby Labonte, that was the one responsible to get me in to Joe Gibbs Racing to go in with those guys,” Stewart said on MotorMouths. “And Waddell Wilson, who was part of Ranier-Walsh Racing, who I drove for in ’96 before I drove for Joe. It really is a cool day, a cool day to be in with these guys.”
Gibbs, a NFL Hall of Fame head coach, entered NASCAR as an owner in 1992. Since then he has accumulated four Cup titles, five Xfinity titles and 157 wins. He was elected in his third year on the ballot.
Labonte was also elected in his third year on the ballot. The younger brother of Hall of Famer Terry Labonte, Bobby is a Cup (2000) and Xfinity champion (1991). He earned 21 Cup wins, including two Brickyard 400s and one Southern 500. His first win came in the 1995 Coca-Cola 600.
Wilson was three-time championship engine builder. He crafted the engines that won titles in 1968, ’69 and ’73. He also won the Daytona 500 three times as a crew chief winning with Baker in 1980 and Cale Yarborough in 1983-84.
Baker, known as the “Gentle Giant,” was elected in his sixth year on the ballot. Baker made 699 starts from 1959-92 and claimed 19 Cup wins, including one Southern 500 and two Coke 600s. After retiring he transitioned into TV, where he worked for TNN and CBS and later SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. Baker died in 2015 at the age of 74 after a battle with cancer.