PORT ROYAL, Pa. – Donning a black ball cap, green-lens sunglasses, khaki shorts and a black t-shirt that repped Ascot Park from his native California, Kyle Larson stepped into the Port Royal Speedway pits Thursday afternoon.
Like he has all summer, he took everything in stride, his head slightly down so he can see the next step. But not even 10 yards in, his head poked up to the sound of excitement.
“Kyle!” a young fan shouted. “Can I get a pic?”
The two smiled and carried on. The last time Larson stepped foot on this property, which ranks as a personal favorite, he won the Bob Weikert Memorial with the Ollie’s Bargain All Star Circuit of Champions in runaway fashion. He returned four days removed from a memorable victory in the Hoosier Hundred, a race that wasn’t supposed to happen again, driving a style of race car he hadn’t raced in eight years.
On this Thursday night, he was getting ready to battle in something new – a dirt late model. He’s won in almost everything and now he’s out to prove he can do it in yet another discipline.
“You’re the reason we’re here!” another fan shouted to Larson, who acknowledged and stepped along.
Larson and late model guru Kevin Rumley have teamed up for a three-day weekend with the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series at Port Royal, posing this question: what’s the ceiling for abounding talent with ground zero experience?
Larson’s multi-colored fluorescent helmet, the same one he picked up the day prior for this very weekend, rests on the roof of this latest ride.
Talks that began back in June were now reality, as Rumley and crew worked to get the car ready for the night. Entering Thursday night Larson only had 60 laps, all by himself, in a late model. Still, Rumley had the utmost confidence things would go well.
“He’s good,” Rumley said. “He doesn’t need much help.”
Last week he tested at South Carolina’s Cherokee Speedway, followed by another test at North Carolina’s Friendship Motor Speedway.
“It really just feels like another race car to me,” Larson said. “Maybe it’s just because I don’t know a whole lot about race cars really. I try not to overthink it.”
Perhaps that’s a main force to Larson’s versatility: He doesn’t know any better. He simply drives. He does, however, study up.
“I’ve watched races here and it kind of races like the sprint cars,” Larson said.
Larson rolled out for his hot lap group and ripped around the half-mile three times. The result astounded: fastest overall at 18.554 seconds, nearly three tenths better than Brandon Sheppard and everyone else. Brows raised and tweets flooded in. Who cares if this was only hot laps?
The thing is, we’ve seen this before. Larson lifts himself out of the car and grabs his phone. He scrolled through it while leaning on a jack stand. He wanted to see what people were saying.
“I could feel the whole world watching me all week,” Larson said. “I do want to see what fans are saying. I really, really, really, really, don’t want fans judging me or sprint car racers a certain way. I just want everybody to appreciate what we’re doing.”
He is, after all, a racer at heart.
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