Rico Abreu knew the risk of rejection would be well worth the potential reward when he approached Kyle Busch about sponsorship.
The former Chili Bowl Nationals winner was searching for a new livery in his quest for a third Golden Driller. Although Abreu, 28, had never met Busch during his short stint in the Camping World Truck Series, he was well aware of the NASCAR Cup champion’s desire to build his Rowdy Energy drink brand—and Busch’s passion for short tracks.
With Abreu’s immense popularity throughout the open-wheel world, a partnership could prove beneficial to both racers.
“I’ve been grinding to try and find a branded company to get behind me,” Abreu said. “Not just on the financial side, but really to elevate my brand as well. I think Kyle Busch is really, really particular about who his brand is around. He’s executed a lot of the marketing himself. He’s savvy on the business side and doesn’t simply use his platform of Kyle Busch the racer.
“There was nothing really left with (former sponsor) Safelite. I thought this was the right opportunity to reach out to Rowdy and get something in the works.”
A Rowdy Energy box arrived from Busch last week. Abreu expressed his gratitude with a video on Twitter—then followed up with a proposal on Monday:
You know... @RowdyEnergy sure would look good on my @KeithKunz @ToyotaRacing at the @CBnationals [😏] Just throwing that out there. https://t.co/k5gIlP0Ayz
— RICO (@Rico_Abreu) December 28, 2020
On Tuesday, Abreu took to Twitter and posted a mock-up design by Blackbeard’s Sean Cain featuring the Rowdy Orange Citrus on the No. 97 Keith Kunz Midget--prompting a Twitter response from Busch four hours later:
"Dude! That looks awesome! Let’s #getrowdy at the Chili Bowl! I’ll have my people call your people! Tulsa just got a little Rowdier! @rowdyenergy"
“I needed the care package to get going,” Abreu said. “I want to prove to him that I’m legit. I’m going to work hard for this opportunity. They sent the care package to start the initial conversation about Chili Bowl. Then, boom, that’s kind of how it all went down.
“I think if he sees a return on his investment it will result in bigger opportunities for the both of us in the dirt racing industry—and with the Rowdy branding. He does a great job on his end (NASCAR) promoting Rowdy Energy. I want to be the Rowdy Energy athlete in the dirt racing industry. But if it doesn’t go beyond the Chili Bowl, I thank him, and that’s it. But I’m going to make sure that I maximize his investment.”
Next weekend will mark Abreu’s 11th appearance in midget racing’s premier event. He has raced with Kunz since 2012, when Abreu won rookie honors. Two years later, he won the USAC National Midget championship, followed by back-to-back Chili Bowl National titles in 2015-2016.
Although the two most recent CBN winners—Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell—have left the KKM fold to pursue other opportunities, Abreu is content to stay the course with Kunz—Chili Bowl’s most prolific team owner.
“The biggest thing for me is how loyal I am to people and my loyalty for the people that support me—vendors, people that work on my race car,” Abreu said. “A lot of that stems from lessons I’ve learned from my father, what he’s taught us—my brother and sister—and the loyalty he’s gained in the wine industry. There are only a few people who reach the pinnacle of their profession, and you don’t do that by making enemies.”
Even with the tremendous success the Abreus have enjoyed, the family-owned Abreu Vineyards was not invulnerable to the recent wildfires in Northern California. Between Mother Nature and the Covid-19 pandemic, Abreu has been tested in 2020.
“This is about as crazy and scary and up and down as it gets,” Abreu said. “There are so many emotions. You watch the property that you've grown up on gust into flames and lose everything you’ve worked for your entire life. It’s not a great feeling.
“But just knowing that you have good people behind you and the people who have worked for my father and their loyalty to him—the positivity that they’ve built there and now through the rebuilding process. That’s what we’ve got going on here. And then with the pandemic, it has just been wild. It’s just a matter of how you handle it and how you move forward.”
Abreu is grateful for the time he’s had at home this year with his family. The experience has also provided a fresh perspective on life and racing. In 2021, Abreu expects to run a 10-12-race schedule with Kunz in midgets with the main focus on sprint cars.
“I’d like to run about 75 (sprint) races, then maybe 10-12 in midgets and maybe take one week off a month and come home,” Abreu said. “I think it’s refreshing to take a break.
“It’s been nice to take a break and spend time with them, but during this break I’ve realized how much I love racing and how much racing means in my life. I think it comes with age. As you mature in life, you like to plan things out. And racing is where I want to go.”