CONCORD, N.C. -- Kyle Larson already has won a NASCAR Cup Series race this season and has been in contention to win a few other races this year, as well. However, the 28-year-old driver didn’t come from a racing background. He and his dad, Mike Larson, dove into the racing world by chance after they saw their neighbors hit the track in a go-kart in 1999.
“There was a kid in the neighborhood that lived just around the corner and he had been a successful top Outlaw kart driver,” Mike said. “We knew their family for years. Kyle and I made the decision to buy that car; didn’t say anything to Mom. It was one of those ‘Let’s just keep this to ourselves and get the car home, and then we will deal with the apologies.’
“We pushed that car from that house, about 100 yards away, over to ours and rolled it up into the garage and I remember her coming out saying, ‘What is this?’ Kyle and I just both kind of smiled at her and said, ‘We’re going racing.’ Obviously, she accepted it, but that car was orange – that was their colors.”
That orange scheme was the inspiration behind Kyle Larson’s look for the throwback event at Darlington Raceway this weekend. Mike said there wasn’t enough time to change the look and change the No. 1 decal on the car. The family eventually adopted the scheme as their own, adding their own touches along the way.
“We had already missed the first four races of that season at Red Bluff, so I think he started either at race four or five that season,” Mike said. “It was just kind of a rush to get it ready, and it was just like, ‘We’ll just go orange, we’ll just leave it.’
“Really, the No. 1 I would have picked that anyways only because again, we didn’t really have the money to buy vinyl graphics and all that. Although I did, on that car, the fade blue and all that – those were all graphics that I purchased. The big No. 1 on top of the wing, I just went to the hobby store and bought two sheets of vinyl so I could cut out the number. It was because No. 1 was the simplest number to make.”
Mike paid $1,200 for the entire car and would work on it before races. He intended for Kyle to learn how the engine works and the ins and outs of how a race car functions, but 7-year-old Kyle was focused on the driving aspect and not the inner mechanics of the cars.
“My work ethic is way better these days,” Kyle joked. “My work ethic is because of him not allowing me to work and learn.”
Mike added: “I tried to get him out there and tried to get him to go through it, but it would be usually, ‘Dad, I’ve got to run the DAYTONA 500. It’s coming up on the computer here soon.’ And I would be like, ‘Just get out of here, just go.’ That’s usually how it would go. I would try to get him out there, try to get him involved, but I ended up having to do it anyway because he couldn’t accomplish it – not that he wasn’t trying, it was just that he wasn’t big enough or strong enough to do the things that we needed to have done.
“It soon became, ‘He’s better off in there playing on the computer racing.’ And I honestly believe that that really helped him; he’s a better driver because he stayed in the house. … We were probably butting heads or it would have been frustrating to slow down to try and make sure he’s doing things the right way and all that. Looking back, I think it all worked out the way that it should have, but there are times when I look back and I think I could have helped him.”
Soon Kyle was working his way up the racing ranks, taking on open-wheeled cars, Sprint cars and more. While many told Mike that Kyle could make it to the highest level of stock car racing, it wasn’t until he saw Kyle racing at a national level in 2011 in Indiana that he realized his son could become a NASCAR driver.
“He didn’t really in that season start off very hot, but by the time it hit mid-summer he was starting to win every big open-wheel midget race, Sprint car race, things that I never thought he would be capable of – and he was doing it that year just one right after another,” Mike said. “That was when I realized that he is that good. What everyone has been telling me, he is that good and he does that have the ability to take this who knows how far.
“At that point, even in 2011, I wasn’t thinking even when I realized he’s pretty good, still didn’t think that he would make it to NASCAR or IndyCar. His goals, our goals really, as a family, were if he could just race Sprint cars full time and make a living at it, that was all we ever hoped for. Anything beyond that to this point is just awesome gravy on top of it.”
Larson broke into the Cup Series in 2014 and earned rookie of the year honors that year. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Tune in this Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET on FS1 to see Larson honor his family and his childhood scheme at Darlington Raceway.