Grand Annual Sprintcar Classic driver is on the road to the holy grail

RICO Abreu is not your average sprintcar driver.

The Californian stands 137 centimetres tall, has the accelerator and brake pedals raised and the seat moved forward.

And he drinks red wine, a drop not usually associated with speedway drivers, especially in Australia where the more humble beer and bourbon are more commonplace.

Unlike most Americans, Abreu enters his first Grand Annual Sprintcar Classic without having contested his homeland’s holy grail, the Knoxville Nationals.

His first taste of the pressure, passion and speed of such events will be Australia’s version of the famous race at Allansford’s Premier Speedway tonight. 

He comes to the classic on the back of a predominantly midget season back home but is hoping to split his time between midgets and sprintcars this year.

The 20-year-old former go-karter is excited to be here. 

“I’m best friends with Kyle Larsen and he came out last year and he said it was a cool track and it would suit my driving style,” he said.

“I would hope to go good around there.”

He is also hoping the Classic might give him the best possible 21st birthday present — a win.

While his wish is to celebrate his milestone birthday on Wednesday with his family back home in Rutherford, California, he won’t be celebrating prematurely should he race to victory tomorrow night.

While he admits to drinking red wine, thanks to his father’s successful business managing vineyards at 26 ranches back home, he says he doesn’t really like it but as he ages, so too does his taste.

Abreu is one of 18 Americans in the field tonight, including his friend and another less than towering figure, former winner Shane Stewart.

Abreu said he felt good in his car, which was shipped from America especially for the Sydney Speedweek and the Classic, including last night’s Kings Challenge at Mount Gambier and Wednesday night’s President’s Cup at Avalon, where he finished eighth.

“I’ve been focused on putting my nights together,” he said.

“In Sydney we weren’t all that good. We crashed a couple of times. But after (Avalon) I felt pretty good and we are working on the car more.”

Abreu said he had a simple game plan.

“Running up front in the final,” he said.

“As long as you run up front, the wins will come. You can’t think you are going to win every time, you’re not going to win every time. I’ll just try to put myself into as good a position as I can and you have to finish to win.

“There are probably 50 cars that can win.”

Abreu, who made his first trek Down Under last summer to Sydney, said he would be back next year and was already thinking about what he would do differently in terms of shipping his car out.

“This keeps you active because there is no racing back home in the winter. I would definitely like to do the Sydney Speedweek, go back home to the Chili Bowl and then come back for the Classic next year. That’s a nice little program.”

Abreu has realistic expectations this weekend.

“I have no bragging rights here,” he said.

“Australian people treat me and my team really well. Everyone is so generous and so nice. 

“It’s a lot different in America. You don’t see as much of that. 

“It’s good the Australian people have the heart to come up and help us.”

Now all he wants to do is capture their hearts with his on-track performances.

grbest@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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