Kyle Larson enjoyed a season for the ages that culminated with the NASCAR Cup Series championship at Phoenix Raceway. (Chris Petersen/Getty Images Photo)
Kyle Larson enjoyed a season for the ages that culminated with the NASCAR Cup Series championship at Phoenix Raceway. (Chris Petersen/Getty Images Photo)

Kyle Larson: The Racer

ELK GROVE, Calif. — The summer day in 2007 started as usual. Mike Larson’s 6 a.m. alarm cued his need for a cup of coffee and the latest sports briefing from the local newspaper, The Sacramento Bee.

For three decades Larson worked for an electrical company in the city and he valued his basic morning ritual knowing he’d likely encounter something unusual in the day ahead.

On that day, the first weird occurrence glowed outside Larson’s master bedroom door.

“Kyle?” the elder Larson softly said from the balcony above.

“Uh, yeah?” his 14-year-old son, Kyle Larson, replied, in the same position as the night before: on the computer, online racing with his buddy Mike McKinney.

“You’ve been up all night?” Mike Larson continued.

“Uh … yeah?” his 14-year-old son answered, again confused by his father’s concern.

Mike Larson just shook his head as he left for work. He had no way to know that that 14 years later he’d gaze out a tiny airplane window on a flight home from Phoenix, Ariz., reflecting on the racer his son had become: a NASCAR Cup Series champion.

Kyle Larson’s energy and relentlessness led to a season for the ages — 30 wins and crown jewel victories at the Chili Bowl, Knoxville Nationals, Kings Royal, BC39 and Prairie Dirt Classic. It all draws back to those all-nighters racing online.

“He was hardcore,” Mike Larson said. “I feel that racing online is a big part of his success, just seeing situations, things that are happening in front of you. You have to react.”

“Yeah, I was hardcore,” Kyle Larson added.

The very thing that built him up, online racing, is also associated with his greatest shame. It was during an online race last spring that Larson uttered a racial slur that swiftly exiled him from NASCAR and destroyed his public image.

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Kyle Larson celebrates winning the 60th Knoxville Nationals. (Paul Arch photo)

But online racing never became a touchy subject for the Larsons. If anything, Mike Larson wishes to shine more light on its fruitfulness.

Kyle Larson’s longtime involvement with the Urban Youth Racing School in Philadelphia, Pa., run by Anthony Martin to help expose students of color to career opportunities within motorsports, were the credentials of his heart when under fire.

Mario Andretti noticed.

“I mean, let’s face it: He’s becoming a positive story in a situation where it was so negative,” Andretti said in an interview with SPEED SPORT earlier this year. “When he went through his ordeal, he never lost focus. He never complained. He just went on about his business. 

“He lets his race cars do the talking and he goes out there and does his job.”

After Kyle Larson won the championship, Mike and Janet Larson boarded their plane back to Sacramento. Away from the madness for the first time, they had begun to see things from 10,000 feet above.

They remembered the hundreds of dirt races attended, when Janet Larson would sit Kyle Larson on her lap and point out drivers worth concentrating on: Steve Kinser, Sammy Swindell and Jac Haudenschild were go-to entertainers.

They remembered when Kyle Larson wanted to entertain like them, so they gifted him with Ratbag Games’ Dirt Track Racing: Sprint Cars in addition to EA Sports’ NASCAR 99. 

Mike Larson remembers narrating his son’s laps around the virtual banks of Daytona Int’l Speedway — “Oh, look at Kyle Larson: He passes Dale Earnhardt, he passes Jeff Gordon,” he’d say.

“Dad, I’m going to make it to NASCAR,” Kyle Larson said, flipping the tone of the conversation.

“Dude, you don’t understand what you’re up against,” Mike Larson informed his son. “There’s a thousand kids just like you. And next year, there’ll be a thousand more. It’s going to be a never-ending process.”

There’s an influx of people asking Mike and Janet Larson how they got their son on the road to accomplishing things comparable to the likes of Andretti and A.J. Foyt.

“As long as your kid is getting homework done, let him race online as much as they want,” Mike Larson would say. “I guarantee you Kyle is seeing stuff on that computer screen that he’s seeing right out here.

“When it happens in front of him, he has a background on how to get out of it,” Mike Larson added. “That, I think, helped make Kyle the racer he is.”

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Kyle Larson won in NASCAR Cup Series stock cars, winged sprint cars, midgets and dirt late models this year. (Jacy Norgaard photo)
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