Change isn’t always easy, but with a strong group of people supporting you a transition can be made a lot easier. That is what 2015 Chili Bowl Nationals winner Rico Abreu is finding out quickly as he makes the transition from racing winged Sprint Cars on dirt to full-fendered race cars on asphalt.
“I’m going from a race car that I race 100 times a year to a race car that I’ve only ran two times,” Abreu told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “I’m just trying to learn as quickly as I can and that’s being around the right people with people feeding me input all of the time. All these people are great to be around in order to speed up your learning curve. The faster it gets sped up, the faster you can move up the ladder and be competitive.”
Abreu recently competed in his first career asphalt race during the Pete Orr Memorial at New Smyrna Speedway (FL) on January 24. He seemed destined for a top-10 finish in the race before a late-race rear-end issue relegated him to a 13th-place finish.
Since that event, the man who stands 4 feet 4 inches tall and his group of supporters have been working hard to get him more comfortable in the seat of a full-fendered stock car. So far, the hard work is paying off. After a test session with his Super Late Model at New Smyrna last week in preparation for the upcoming World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing, he says he’s the most comfortable he’s been behind the wheel since making the transition.
Abreu will compete in all seven Super Late Model races during the World Series behind the wheel of the DLP Motorsports No. 24. He will also make his NASCAR K&N Pro Series East debut on Sunday, February 15 driving the HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks No. 98 entry.
Preparing the cars for the event has been a process for Abreu and his teams but he says he was able to learn a lot after his first race at New Smyrna in January.
“It was OK,” Abreu said when asked about his comfort level during his first asphalt race. “We worked on it a little bit before I went back to test last week. We had a full day worth of testing and now I feel more comfortable than I ever have. We took a lot of big steps over the last few weeks and I’m ready to get after it this weekend.”
Some of the changes to Abreu’s Super Late Model included adjustments to the brakes and adjustments to the cockpit to help him be more aware of where his car is on the race track.
“I was riding the brake a little bit, so it was wearing them out a lot quicker,” said Abreu. “Then just knowing where your car is on the track, really. It’s hard to tell with your fenders so far away from you. You don’t really know until you get around cars. When I’m racing guys I have a better perception of everything. There’s a few things you’ve got to know before you get out there and give it your all.”
One of Abreu’s biggest supporters during this transition is his good friend and 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year Kyle Larson. Like Abreu, Larson is also from the state of California and made his way to the highest levels of NASCAR by succeeding in the dirt ranks.
Abreu said that Larson is planning on attending a number of events at New Smyrna in order to support his good friend.
“I got a lot of advice from Kyle,” said the St. Helena, California native. “Kyle got to go to my test when I tested the night before my race at New Smyrna. The biggest thing about it is your entry, backing your corner up and just knowing where your braking points are. I’m starting to get the hang of it, that’s for sure.”
Another big difference between dirt racing and asphalt racing is the level of patience needed in order to win races. Abreu is accustomed to getting up on the wheel the moment the green flag waves during 30-lap Sprint Car features, but he’s quickly learning that same approach won’t work for a 100 lap feature on asphalt.
“Be patient. That’s the biggest thing,” said Abreu about the biggest difference between dirt and asphalt racing. “You’ve got to win these races in the last 10 laps. You’ve got to be there at the end and not wear your car out.
“Sprint Car races are only 30 laps and you race as hard as you can. These Late Model races are more in the 100 lap range and you have to conserve your equipment, conserve your tire and let the race play out. You almost always end up getting a caution with 10 to 15 laps to go, so you can regroup and get back after it.”
One advantage that Abreu may have over his competition this year comes in the amount of races that he plans to compete in. In addition to his NASCAR K&N East plans, he plans to continue racing Sprint Cars whenever his schedule allows. Abreu estimated his 2015 racing schedule to include up to 110 races by the end of the year.
“I look at it as a lot of these people that I’ll be racing against only get to race 20 times a year,” he said. “I race 110 times a year, so it speeds up your learning process. This will be a big week because I get to race a lot. Seven races in eight days, so it will be busy. I’ll get to learn from my small mistakes and fix them for the next night.”
Fans can watch Abreu and a host of other short track stars compete during the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing by tuning into the Fanschoice.TV powered by Speed51.com live broadcast that will air on NASCARHomeTracks.com.
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Speed51.com