NASCAR & Auto Racing

NASCAR’s diminutive Rico Abreu measures up big in the truck series

Rico Abreu talks about the NASCAR Truck Series

Rico Abreu, a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver, talked about the Truck Series on Thursday, ahead of the race Friday at Kansas Speedway. Video by Jill Toyoshiba.
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Rico Abreu, a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver, talked about the Truck Series on Thursday, ahead of the race Friday at Kansas Speedway. Video by Jill Toyoshiba.

NASCAR driver Rico Abreu doesn’t remember anyone telling him no. Ever.

It could have been easy for team owners, crew chiefs, sponsors or even family members to try dissuading Abreu, who stands a mere 4 feet 4 inches tall, from attempting to command race cars at the top levels of motorsports.

But Abreu, who was born with achondroplasia, the most common cause of dwarfism, has dispelled the doubters. He is a contender for rookie of the year honors in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, which stages the Toyota Tundra 250 at 7:30 Friday night at Kansas Speedway.

“That’s what makes my situation so unique,” said Abreu, 24. “Anything I wanted to do, my family was supportive. I push people to do things like this. …

“That’s what has gotten me to where I am today. It doesn’t matter if people have dwarfism, or are bigger or smaller or wear glasses … everyone should have a chance at following their passions and dreams.”

Abreu (pronounced AY-broo) did not begin racing until he competed in a kart at age 15 and turned his first laps on a dirt track that his family built in the backyard of their St. Helena, Calif., home.

“I found a sport I loved and felt comfortable doing and felt like I could be myself,” Abreu said. “Once I figured out I could race these cars and be just as competitive, I pushed myself to be a race-car driver.”

Abreu won 45 races in different series on varied surfaces during a three-year span between 2011 and 2014. He was voted 2011 rookie of the year by the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame, won both the 2014 USAC National Midget rookie of the year and series championship and captured the 2015 and 2016 Chili Bowl Nationals, one of dirt track racing’s most prestigious events.

After Abreu finished fifth and earned Most Popular Driver honors in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East last year, he started the final two races of the Camping World Truck Series season, including a 13th place at Homestead Miami Speedway.

That landed him a seat in the No. 98 Safelite Toyota for ThorSport Racing, the longest-tenured team in the truck series.

“He’s a racer,” said Doug George, Abreu’s crew chief. “Once he hops inside the vehicle, whether it be a truck or sprint car or midget or Cup car, he’s a true racer. He’s very aggressive. He always has a good attitude, and he’s always studying what we’re doing.”

Because of Abreu’s stature, the race team has to make some modifications to his Toyota Tundra, including bringing the pedal assembly closer to the driver’s seat and moving switches and the shifter closer to his reach.

But he is coming off finishes of 11th at Atlanta and 10th at Martinsville in his last two starts while learning from his teammates, including Matt Crafton, the 2013 and 2014 truck series champion and a two-time winner at Kansas Speedway.

“Keep in mind he’s never been to 95 percent of these tracks,” George said. “He ran Phoenix and Homestead at the end of last season, but it’s a super big learning curve from driving a sprint car with a wing to a super heavy stock car that weighs 3,400 pounds. For him to make that transition, he’s done a pretty good job.”

With more experience, Abreu is confident he’ll win in the truck series and eventually break more barriers by achieving his goal at the Sprint Cup level.

“It’s not as difficult as everyone thinks,” Abreu said of racing at his size. “It’s a normal life for me, and there’s nothing that says I can’t do it.”