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RICO Abreu came to midget racing at a much older age than most midget racers. As close as I can tell, Abreu’s first midget races came in the January 2012 Chili Bowl in Tulsa, Okla.
Perhaps that isn’t unique, but the fact that he started his midget racing in one of most coveted seats in midget racing — with Keith Kunz Motorsports midget, certainly is. The fact that he made it through the alphabet soup of hooligans to run in the Friday night feature at Tulsa speaks to the talent of the driver and the quality of the ride.
Abreu was recommended to Kunz and partner Pete Willoughby by their driver from last year, Kyle Larson. Earlier this season, Abreu could be found in the pits helping with cars that Larson was driving. The recommendation of a driver like Kyle certainly carried enough weight for the Kunz team to give Abreu the ride.
In addition to the United States Auto Club National midget races, Kunz and Willoughby have entered Abreu in other midget races to give him more midget experience and to familiarize him with the new tracks where he will be racing. As a part of this process, they have taken Abreu to Angell Park Speedway at Sun Prairie, Wisc., known to midget fans as “The Prairie.”
The first trip ended with a component failure; however, Abreu ran well and got a feel for the track. The second trip to The Prairie yielded Abreu’s first midget win over a pretty competitive field of POWRi racers. While it wasn’t a USAC National series race, it was an impressive win for a driver with limited experience.
Robbie Ray took the lead at the drop of the green flag and held it for the first three circuits. Tyler Thomas then took the lead and traded it back and forth with Mike Hess until Hess pulled away. In the meantime, Abreu was up on the cushion chasing down the leaders.
Abreu caught and passed Hess in heavy traffic on the 17th circuit by putting all four wheels in the cushion. He never looked back. Brad Kuhn caught and passed Hess to take second during the closing laps. Hess and Daniel Robinson followed in third and fourth, respectively.
Following the race, Abreu commented, “It feels great to get my first win at such an historic facility. My car was just perfect, and I am really looking forward to getting back to this place.
“We have come close a few times this year, and it’s really all about putting yourself in position to win these kind of races. I have learned so much hanging around a great group of guys — Keith, Pete and Chris — and we really have something going on as a team right now.”
Alabama man wins at Bloomington
Kevin Thomas Jr. came from Culman, Ala., to race sprint cars. There just isn’t much non-winged sprint car racing in Alabama. He has been steadily improving, and it all came together Friday at Bloomington Speedway.
Not only was it his first feature win at Bloomington Speedway, it was his first-ever win anyplace. For a driver to score his first win during Indiana Sprint Week is simply astounding. He was up against the best sprint car drivers in the nation, and he won.
Thomas’ mount was particularly strong on restarts. He passed Dave Darland for the lead on Lap 6, and he never looked back. Darland would reel him in, but a caution flag would give Thomas another restart in which to build his lead again.
Thomas’ ace in the hole was probably his crew chief, Bubby Jones. Ole Bub was one of the greatest drivers and a remarkable crew chief, as well. He worked for Tony Stewart a few years back wrenching Levi Jones’ sprinter, and I recall being impressed by the depth of his knowledge. His career has featured countless wins both as a driver and a crew chief.
Following the race Thomas said, “Bubby just gave me a great race car, and he told me to drive the hell out of it. Everybody was ‘huggy-poling’ at the beginning. Our car was a little snug, and I could run a little higher. It worked out great for us. I really didn’t have a choice but to go for it. For the yellows to come out like they did, I was really fortunate. We were probably not gonna be good in traffic. So those (yelllows) were good for us.”
Many senior sprint car fans will recall Kevin Thomas, who was a superb sprint car racer who drove for Rodney Reynolds and Hank Byram during the closing years of his career. I recall him coming in during the sprint program at Lawrenceburg Speedway. He unbolted his seat and walked to the parking lot. He was done. The Kevin Thomas Jr. who won at Bloomington Friday night apparently is not related to the original Kevin Thomas.
Darland held on to finish second, followed by Brent Beauchamp, Jerry Coons Jr. and Bryan Clauson.
Saturday, Jon Stanbrough won at Tri-State Speedway at Haubstadt, Ind. (near Evansville). Levi Jones came home second, followed by Clauson, Jonathan Hendrick and Chase Stockon.
Sprint week ended with a makeup race Sunday night at Lincoln Park Speedway at Putnamville where Darland won, trailed by Thomas Jr., Clauson, Shane Cottle and Jones.
Jones (391) won his fourth Indiana Sprint Week championship, followed by Clauson (384), Stanbrough (371), Darland (352), Coons Jr. (288), Stockon (279), Hunter Schuerenberg (267), Thomas Jr. (260), Damion Gardner (257) and Cottle (217).
Tim McKinney is an auto racing columnist for The Republic. He can be reached at 372-3936.
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