Editor’s note: This is part one of two of the August SPEED SPORT Magazine feature chronicling Kyle Larson’s mid-summer hot streak.
Defending NOS Energy Drink USAC National Midget Series champion Tyler Courtney made an astute, if unsurprising, observation after Kyle Larson claimed one of his four Indiana Midget Week victories during the month of June.
“He (Larson) is doing exactly what we all thought he’d do if he ever came back to dirt (racing) full time,” Courtney noted, with a glance at the victory stage where Larson was celebrating.
While it seemed rather obvious in the moment — and still does, for that matter — Courtney’s remark was a bolt of truth agreed upon throughout the dirt-racing community.
Larson is back where he is most at home, and where many fans believe he never should have left.
The Elk Grove, Calif., native started his racing career barnstorming to victory on dirt tracks, first in his native California and later on tracks across the country with USAC, the All Star Circuit of Champions and the World of Outlaws.
His meteoric rise to stardom began in the midgets with Toyota Racing Development and Keith Kunz-Curb-Agajanian Motorsports before he jumped deeper into sprint cars as well. However, as with many before him who experienced an almost-overnight rise to fame, the allure of top-level motorsports came calling.
By 2013, Larson was firmly in the grips of the stock car world, racing full time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with a defined trajectory straight to the NASCAR Cup Series with Chip Ganassi Racing.
Success followed over six seasons from 2014-’19, with six Cup Series wins and multiple playoff berths.
However, just as quickly as that success materialized, it came crashing down during the COVID-19 shutdown earlier this year.
Larson was suspended by NASCAR and later released from CGR after using a racial slur during a livestreamed iRacing event. He was required to complete sensitivity training as a result of the incident and has not raced stock cars since.
However, while that particular event — a clear turning point in Larson’s career — was viewed by many as catastrophic, Larson has since made one of the most impressive racing comebacks in recent memory.
Cinching up his proverbial boots, Larson returned to his dirt-track roots, teaming with his longtime sprint car owner and mechanic Paul Silva for an ambitious and busy slate of events that put Larson in the driver’s seat more than he had been since moving to NASCAR on a regular basis seven years ago.
It took a couple of weeks, as quiet and unflattering World of Outlaws appearances at Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway and Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 in Pevely, Mo., might suggest, but after he got comfortable on the dirt again Larson caught fire and the blaze hasn’t died down since.
A win during the second night of the Outlaws’ doubleheader at Pevely on May 23 was a harbinger of things to come. Larson contended for victory again at Lake Ozark Speedway in Eldon, Mo., on May 30, only to be passed by Donny Schatz on the white-flag lap.
For Larson, the runner-up effort at Lake Ozark was a catalyst.
What followed was one of the most impressive runs by any driver in dirt-track racing since the turn of the millennium. Starting with that second-place finish in Missouri, Larson put together an entire month during which he finished no worse than sixth while racing sprint cars and midgets.
A similar runner-up finish to All Star Circuit of Champions kingpin Aaron Reutzel at Oklahoma’s Red Dirt Raceway on June 5 was Larson’s last defeat before reeling off an unparalleled eight victories in a row — spanning three different premier dirt-racing series and two different types of car.
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