KERCHNER: Larson’s Run Compared To Others

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Mike Kerchner
Mike Kerchner

MOORESVILLE, N.C. — By now we’ve all heard about the highly successful season Kyle Larson is having as he competes in various types of open-wheel race cars.

When Larson claimed the $50,000 top prize in the Brownell’s Capitani Classic at Iowa’s Knoxville Raceway, it was his 30th feature victory of the season. He added three more victories the following weekend and had won 26 winged sprint car events in 49 starts through Aug. 23.

That’s a great season by anyone’s account, and he’s more than likely to continue to rack up the statistics through the final months of the season.

In recognition of Larson’s accomplishments, we thought we’d look back at some of open-wheel racing’s other fantastic single-season accomplishments.

These will be fond memories for many readers.

In 1985, Doug Wolfgang was in his first full season driving Bob Weikert’s famed “Beefmobile.” Racing primarily on the challenging central Pennsylvania circuit while venturing out to big-money races throughout the country, Wolfgang won an amazing 55 sprint car features that season.

Six World of Outlaws victories, including a third Knoxville Nationals triumph, were among his conquests.

Like Wolfgang, 20-time World of Outlaws champion Steve Kinser had many remarkable seasons behind the wheel of a sprint car, but his best campaign came in 1987.

Driving Karl Kinser’s familiar No. 11, The King won earned what is believed to be an all-time record 56 sprint car feature victories. He won 46 times in 69 World of Outlaws races, including 24 of the final 26 events. Among the wins were the Knoxville Nationals, the Kings Royal at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway and the Western World Championship at Manzanita Speedway in Arizona.

Kinser also won 36 World of Outlaws races in 1991, 31 in ’92 and 29 in ’94.

Ten-time World of Outlaws title winner Donny Schatz enjoyed his best season in 2015 when he earned 31 WoO victories, capped by a Knoxville Nationals triumph and a series title. He also won six sprint car races in Australia and a late model feature that season.

Sammy Swindell won 28 World of Outlaws features en route to the series title in 1981 and Mark Kinser grabbed 27 victories, including the Knoxville Nationals, while winning the WoO championship in 1996.

He didn’t do it in a winged sprint car, but J.J. Yeley had one of the all-time great open-wheel racing seasons in 2003.

Yeley won a single-season USAC record 24 features in Silver Crown, sprint car and midget competition in becoming the second driver to win the USAC Triple Crown in a single season. By contrast, Tony Stewart won only 12 features when he became the first to win the Triple Crown in 1995.

Larson got a late start on his year because of COVID-19 and the fact he started the season in NASCAR before, as everyone knows, losing his ride because of insensitive remarks he made during a livestreaming event.

He notched his first victory aboard the Paul Silva-prepared No. 57 sprint car at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 on May 23. Then, he got really hot. Between May 30 and July 3, he won 13 features. As the weather got hotter, Larson kept winning.

Through Aug. 23, Larson had won nine World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series features in 18 starts with the series. He won 12 features in 16 events with the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet All Star Circuit of Champions. He also claimed the Pennsylvania Speedweek title and the Indiana Midget Week title.

And all of this was while racing during a time when there were fewer races to choose from because of the COVID-19 restrictions in place throughout the country. That’s pretty impressive, even to the old timers (hey, don’t look at me like that) in the crowd.

– For one of the few times in my adult life I didn’t spend mid-August in Knoxville, Iowa. My absence was because of the cancellation of the Knoxville Nationals due to COVID-19.

Someone asked what I missed most. Was it the best sprint car racing of the season, was it the food, was it the Hall of Fame or was it the large crowds? The answer is really simple. I missed Knoxville, Iowa. It is the type of small town after which every small town should be modeled.

If you’ve never been to Knoxville, we highly suggest seeing a race there in 2021. It’s a unique, special place that happens to have one of the finest dirt tracks in the world.