Abreu Leads the Way in Chili Bowl Prelim and in the Face of Adversity

The two-time Chili Bowl winner had the right message after the Ashton Torgerson crash.


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Rico Abreu won the Wednesday night Chili Bowl Midget Nationals preliminary feature with a thrilling last corner pass of Mitchel Moles but that was secondary to the concern shared by the entire Tulsa Expo Center over the well-being of Ashton Torgerson.

On the 10th lap of the race, Torgerson was involved in a flip in which he came unbuckled and was tossed from his car onto the track, at one point leaving his head upside down and exposed to the racing surface as the car tumbled.

What followed was roughly a 45-minute delay to treat Torgerson at the scene and carefully load him into an ambulance so he could be transported to a nearby facility for treatment. Remarkably, the 16-year-old was immediately response and reported feeling in his hands and feet.

Upon reaching the facility, Torgerson passed spinal and neck tests, and was waiting on the results of a CT scan as of 2 a.m. ET. These were all positive developments, but they were unbeknownst to the racers as they completed the final 20 laps of the Wednesday night main event.

Abreu, who has become an elder statesmen of sorts in open wheel dirt racing, said tonight was not about boycotts, purse disputes or even the results of the race -- instead placing all the attention towards Torgerson.

It was the right message from the right messenger to this particular audience, as at one point, the entire pit area made their way to the ramp to wait for updates on the downed driver from Medford, Oregon.

"These are tough moments for race car drivers," Abreu said in the post-race press conference. "I didn't personally witness what happened, but you could feel the energy shift, and change in the building. Anxiety. Fear.

"To see a curtain come across the track ... I don't need to go on about it. We're race car drivers, and we have to strap in these things once everything cools off and hats off to the Chili Bowl for their incredible safety response. It's something we've seen across sports the past week or so. You just feel gutted.

"All I've been thinking about the past hour is just making sure that boy is okay."

The case could have been made, especially in the aftermath of the Damar Hamlin injury in the NFL, to postpone the remainder of the feature but that’s not commonplace in this discipline. There have been countless instances of really bad situations that immediately were followed up with the resumption of the race.

Abreu said that postponing the race was never even on the table during the 40-minute open red in which drivers were outside of their cars in the infield and communicating with event officials.

"It was more a conversation to get everyone together, shared a prayer in the huddle and understanding the circumstance everyone was in," Abreu said. "There was never a conversation about a cancellation or not moving forward. It was just making sure everyone got back to where they needed to be, and I thank the Chili Bowl for giving us that space."

It was a sentiment shared by Moles.

"We all prayed for him, and we were just worried about him," Moles said. "I saw the end of (the crash) with my own eyes and I just didn’t have any information beyond that at the time. Just an unfortunate situation and we were just trying to give everyone space to get that boy to the hospital so he can get the care he needed.

"I also want to give credit to the Chili Bowl staff, that’s something you really can’t train for, but they did a hell of a job."

What happened, and how everyone felt about it, makes what happened after the crash even more remarkable. The racing product will become secondary to the incident that overshadowed it, but it’s still objectively true that Abreu, Moles and Brent Crews put on one of the best races possible at the Expo Center.

Abreu began the race when a sixth to third-place charge, and was running third at the time of the Torgerson crash. For the second year in a row, Moles experience professional heartbreak late in his Prelim Feature.

He was running second late last year when a flip cost him a transfer into Championship Saturday. This time, he just got beat when Abreu started ripping the top and won in a photo finish. Purely from a racing standpoint, Moles was frustrated.

"Frustrated is an understatement," Moles said. "Plain and simple, I’m tired of losing here. As a race car driver, the goal is to win or run top two to lock into the Saturday show, because that’s what everyone is here for.

"I need to be better, I guess. I could hear him up there. I didn’t want to move up and wreck like I did last year. What can I say, you’re a sitting duck out there. Rico is a hell of a driver and there is a reason he keeps winning these prelim nights over, over, over, over, over and over again."

This is six in a row, and eight prelim wins over the past nine years for Abreu, a total that ties Christopher Bell and Sammy Swindell in this building in January.

"Mitchel’s car was good enough to maintain a pretty quick pace around the bottom," Abreu said. "When he moved down, there towards the last half, I could make up time running across. On the restart with six laps to go, I saw Chad tell him to move down and I just went up because I was not going to follow him.

"That was an easy decision for me."

But again, all eyes were turned towards Torgerson.

"Honestly, I just want give all my prayers to the Torgersons," Moles said. "They’re like family to me, having raced with them in Midgets and Micros, they’ve been clients and just pray for him. He’s a damn good kid and a good racer and hope he can overcome this and race again."