He’s the most talked about driver in racing — period.
Kyle Larson, 20, of Elk Grove, snatched victory from a leader on the last lap of a late-model stock car race on pavement at Daytona International Speedway. He made national news when he crashed spectacularly on the superspeedway a few days later.
Last weekend, he won the inaugural event at Stockton 99 Dirt Track.
There were more wins between Daytona and Stockton, too, despite it only being one month into the season.
Excelling in two different genres of racing — on dirt and pavement — is a juggling act. Larson’s planning to return to the World of Outlaws sprint car race at Merced this on Friday night — as long as everything goes as planned.
“My goal is to drive in as many races as I can,” he said. “I love sprint cars. It feels good to be in a sprint car racing in California, my home state, where I have a lot of fans.”
Polite and, mild mannered— if not quiet, Larson is diminutive in stature and far from the stereotypical race driver. That is, until he sits in a racecar.
Watching him qualify at Stockton, flying past competition — including NASCAR’s Tony Stewart — was heart stopping.
As television crews approached before the main event, Larson braced for the line of questioning.
“Did the wreck at Daytona affect your driving?” asked a Sacramento TV station.
“I haven’t thought about it one bit,” Larson calmly answered. “Its old news.
“It’s not in my head when I sit in my race car, not one bit.”
Larson proved that when he took the checkered flag.
Now, Merced is next on the World of Outlaws schedule. NASCAR has an off-week because of Easter, opening up the possibility for Larson to come to Merced.
“I want to be racing at Merced Speedway,” Larson said. “I will be testing in Las Vegas earlier in the day, if everything goes on schedule, I will fly to Merced in the afternoon.”
Larson’s longing for more racing was reflected in his eyes.
“I enjoy every bit of racing. All types of racing help me be a better driver. I feel it is an advantage to drive as many types of cars at as many different tracks that I can,” he continued. “Just racing with all the different drivers sharpens your racing skills. The more laps you have on a racetrack, the better driver you become.”
Two stalls away, ropes and California Highway Patrol officers surrounded Tony Stewart and his car, walling them from contact with the public. Crewmen pushed people out of the way to make way for Stewart, who acknowledged no one.
At the same time, Larson, unspoiled by fame, obliged his fans. A young woman driver talked racing with him. An older woman had him sign her jeans. Men shook his hand.
“These are my fans,” he said. “I have to make time for them.”
Hopefully, he’ll never change.
The World of Outlaws event on Friday will begin with the grandstands and pit area opening at 1 p.m. Featured with the Outlaws will be Merced’s own International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) modified stock cars. The special event will draw the top drivers from the region, who will battle with Merced’s top stars.
There will be a full program of racing for the “modifieds” — including heat races and a feature event. The World of Outlaws will have time trials, heat races, a “B” Main Event, and the feature event. Cars will be on the track at 6 p.m. General Admission tickets will be available on race day. Ticket prices are $35 for adults and $15 for children. Merced Speedway is located in the Merced County Fairgrounds, 900 Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Merced. The parking entrance will be on W. 11th St. Local hotels have secured special rates for race fans. Information is available on the Merced Speedway website.