BURNS: Around The Track

Kyle Larson was back behind the wheel Wednesday at the Knoxville Nationals – at least for a photo op. (Frank Smith photo)
Kyle Larson was back behind the wheel Wednesday at the Knoxville Nationals – at least for a photo op. (Frank Smith photo)

MOORESVILLE, N.C. – Kyle Larson was at the Knoxville Nationals on Wednesday, he’ll race in NASCAR’s Nationwide and Sprint Cup events Saturday and Sunday at Watkins Glen Int’l, and in between, he’ll probably find something else to race.

Such is the life of Larson, NASCAR’s most successful rookie. He won the pole for last Sunday’s GoBowling.com 400, he’s in Chase contention, he co-owns a World of Outlaws STP Sprint Car Series team and he races karts when he finds the time, too.

Oh, and he’s going to be a father. And he just turned 22 on July 31. Busy man.

What sets Larson apart from many racing stars isn’t just his eventful schedule, though.

It’s how he takes it all in stride.

I first met Larson a little more than a year ago at the karting track he frequents, GoPro Motorplex in Mooresville, N.C. Kasey Kahne and PGA Tour golfer Rickie Fowler were there. Both of them wore firesuits. They were the subjects of a karting promotional event.

Larson was in the background at the end of it, just taking in the scene with the rest of us. He wore a black t-shirt and jeans. His entourage consisted of the following: Kyle Larson.

It was the first and likely last time I’ll probably ever see him out of the spotlight.

At The Dirt Track at Charlotte in May, where his Larson-Marks Racing car driven by Shane Stewart had run well before flipping over in a crash, there was Larson again. He was talking with his crew members after the race. Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and other NASCAR superstars were also in the sprint-car pits throughout the night. You saw Jeff Gordon and you knew it was Jeff Gordon.

You saw Kyle Larson, and you probably thought – if you could recognize him – hey, that’s Kyle Larson.

He could’ve been mistaken for a young crew member, because he spent part of the evening working on the No. 2 car he owns with road-racer Justin Marks.

The horde of fans didn’t come until after the race, when Larson was besieged by fans wanting pictures, autographs, and pictures of Larson signing autographs.

Hey Kyle, mind if we chat for a minute?

“That’s fine with me,” Larson says after speaking with a publicist.

It’s noisy all around us, because there’s still racing going on. Some of the fans who were around Larson have left. The rest, save for a couple more autograph seekers, are just mingling around the pits. It’s also noisy because Larson is letting a little boy, who asked politely, use an air gun to spray the dirt off Larson’s golf cart.

When he’s not racing something with four wheels or working on something with four wheels, he’s cleaning dirt off something with four wheels. Or getting some help. He’s rarely alone these days.

But these are good times for Kyle Larson. Most of the year, save for a forgettable Daytona 500, has been good.  He could be the first rookie to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup since Denny Hamlin in 2006. Being a car owner is great, too.

“It seems like every time we hit the track, we’re doing a bit better,” Larson said. “We’re getting close to hitting (the setup) almost every night.

“It’s been a fun year.”