Wherever there’s a sprint car race at a local dirt track near you, it’s very likely Kyle Larson will be around to put on an exciting show. Generally speaking, the 26-year-old from Elk Grove, CA doesn’t mind letting it all hang out. Whether it’s sliding into the right groove at Knoxville Speedway or taking the outside at Bristol Motor Speedway, he’s an exciting racer to watch.
Of course, Larson is a dedicated racer in any motorsports discipline, be it in a sprint car or his No. 42 DC Solar/Credit One Chevrolet Camaro in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Correspondingly, one could say that the Californian is like an old school driver or adaptable stock car stalwarts like Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and Christopher Bell.
Naturally, Larson’s need for speed isn’t merely satisfied by solid top-five or top-10 finishes. On the contrary, this is a driver hungry for victories, especially during a season like his efforts in 2018.
Surely, the sixth year Cup driver recently clinched a playoff spot and reeled off his seventh top-five finish last Saturday night at Bristol. However, he realizes there’s still much work to be done before considering a serious postseason run at NASCAR glory.
Recently, I spoke with Larson during the Consumers Energy 400 race weekend at Michigan. From his season to date, his double duty efforts at Knoxville and Michigan to his hidden talents, perhaps there’s more than meets the eyes with this young racer!
Although Larson may not showcase his hidden talent in the near future, one might wonder if he’d like a Hula Girl in his No. 42 car. Nevertheless, it’s time to start getting “In the Driver’s Seat with Kyle Larson” here on The Podium Finish!
Rob Tiongson : We’ve seen some speed from the 42 car this year, but tough circumstances prevent that first win from happening. Returning to Michigan, where you’ve won three of the past four races, how confident do you feel about your chances to finally return to the winner’s circle here, or in these upcoming races?
Kyle Larson : Yea, we’ve been close to a couple of wins this year. It’s been good to be leading the Chevy camp up until recently. The Hendrick cars have gotten quite a bit better than us. We’re still working hard to get better and better. I feel like we’re getting our cars better every week. So, that’s good. Everybody is, though. We’ve got to keep working hard and hopefully, we can hit on something at the right time.
Tiongson : Would you say that the earlier season success that we saw from the 42 was more attributed to your team figuring out the Chevrolet Camaro body a bit faster than your Bowtie teammates?
Larson : I don’t know, I guess. We’re really good to start last season as well. So, I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s the racetracks that are in the beginning of the season that suit us. It seems to be similar to last year as far as the speed that we had earlier in the year and kind of equal out in the mid-portion of the season.
Tiongson : This month is #KidsDriveNASCAR where the sport wants to promote its initiative towards engaging the young and new fans. What were some of your earliest impressions of racing? How important is it for the sport to draw interest from young fans and those who’ve supported the sport for the long haul?
Larson : Fans are what drive this sport. Especially the young fans, we try to engage with them to help them love our sport as much as we all did growing up. So, I guess when I’m out there racing, I don’t view myself as a role model or anything. But, outside of the cars, that’s when we can do our job to help grow the sport with the young kids.
Tiongson : Along the same lines, you’re raising your son Owen and daughter Audrey Layne with your fiancée Katelyn. How much of your perspective of racing has changed now that you’re sharing your experiences with your family, through the good and tough days?
Larson : I would say on the bad days is really where it’s fun to have children. Owen’s starting to get to the age where he knows if you have a good or bad day. For a while, when you have a bad race, you’d be pissed off and come back to the house or motor home and he’s in a good mood just to see you. That helps you get over the bad days quicker. It’s been fun to be a father.
Tiongson : I saw the skit where your son and Clint Bowyer’s son Cash were debating about whose father was faster. How cool is it and has it helped form more friendships at the track?
Larson : Oh, no doubt. I didn’t really hang out with anybody before I had kids. (laughs) Kids bring everybody together because we’re all stuck in our motorhomes here every weekend. They want to go outside and play. Kids are always outside and it kind of makes us talk to the other drivers.
Tiongson : You’re doing a unique double duty of sorts as you’ll compete in the Knoxville Nationals, one of the most prestigious sprint car races of the year. How exciting is it for you to go back to your roots and how special would it be to win the Nationals and at Michigan?
Larson : It’d be cool. The Knoxville Nationals is the biggest sprint car race in the world. I was close to winning it last year so I feel good about it. I start third which is a lot further forward than I’ve ever started in that race, so I should have a good shot. Last year, we ran second and then came here and won which was pretty big. I’d like to win both this weekend.
Tiongson : We’ve seen Lionel Racing produce various versions of your cars at least since 2013. How humbling is it for you to sign these cars for fans and have you ever collected some of these replicas for your personal keepsake?
Larson : I was a big die-cast collector growing up, mostly with sprint cars and stuff. I couldn’t wait to have my own die-cast cars. It’s cool to see my own stuff out there. I guess I’m not into it quite as much as I used to be, but I still have about every car that’s been made of mine. So, I collect my own stuff and it’s cool to go back years from now and look and see all the cars that I’ve raced.
Tiongson : We know you’re a very talented racer in about any car, you love your family, and you show some enthusiasm with the annual NASCAR gifs each season. Tell me three unique things about yourself that may surprise fans, and even your close associates at the track?
Larson : Three other hidden talents? I’m not that talented. (laughs) I wouldn’t say I’m talented at karaoke, but I have fun with it. (snickers) I can’t even think of one. I don’t know. Hula-hooping – I’m pretty good at. I can go forever with a hula hoop.
Tiongson : We’ll have to see if you can do that in Victory Lane one day.
Larson : I don’t think they keep a hula hoop in Victory Lane…not yet. (laughs)
Tiongson : Now you mentioned that you’re not that good at karaoke but you enjoy doing it…
Larson : I feel like I’m good. I usually don’t remember it the next day. (laughs)
Tiongson : Do you have a favorite go to song or a guilty pleasure song that you do?
Larson : I don’t know if I should say it. (laughs) It’s a pretty dirty song, it’s not PG. Let’s leave it at that. (laughs)
Tiongson : Every driver and crew member in the garage may have a “Welcome to NASCAR” moment that’s made them feel like a true part of the sport. For you, what would be that initiation moment for you in NASCAR, whether it be a good learning lesson or a lighthearted moment of acceptance with your peers?
Larson : My “welcome to NASCAR” moment was probably when I went through the catchfence at Daytona in my first XFINITY race. So, that was a cool little eyeopener to superspeedway racing. It’s probably why I really love speedway racing these days, you know? (laughs)
Special thanks to Kyle Larson and the kind folks over at Chip Ganassi Racing for this opportunity! Always a pleasure to talk racing with Kyle and his efforts in NASCAR and the sprint car scene. For more information on Kyle and his NASCAR efforts, “Follow” him on Twitter, “Like” his Facebook page, and “Visit” his official website!