Editor’s Note: In this monthly photo essay feature, National Sprint Car Hall of Fame photographer John Mahoney shares his memories and images from some of the most amazing and historic sprint car and midget races.
4-Crown Nationals, Eldora Speedway, Sept. 24, 2011
Last month’s look back at Jack Hewitt’s 1998 sweep of Eldora Speedway’s 4-Crown Nationals triggered memories of Kyle Larson’s similar performance 13 years later.
Heading into the 2011 edition of the fall classic, Larson had already scored his first USAC sprint car feature victory and was a four-time winner in the USAC midgets. But the 19-year-old racer from Elk Grove, Calif., had never turned a wheel on Eldora’s legendary half-mile oval.
He clocked third quick in midget qualifying and proceeded to lead all 25 laps aboard the Keith Kunz Motorsports No. 67 entry, finishing ahead of heavy-hitters Bryan Clauson, Darren Hagen, Jerry Coons Jr. and Tracy Hines.
Starting 11th in the 30-lap sprint car main, Larson was moving to the front while the early leaders were encountering tire problems. First, it was Levi Jones, then Coons Jr., and finally Chris Windom with two laps remaining.
Dave Darland took command on the lap 28 restart but another yellow flag put Larson on Darland’s tail. Larson quickly put the Hoffman Dynamics No. 69 car in front and finished ahead of Darland, Bobby East, Hines and Hunter Schuerenberg.
With Larson starting the 50-lap Silver Crown feature from the front row, one can imagine what the Big E crowd was thinking. Fellow front-row starter Jones took the lead at the start, but Larson got around the series points leader on lap five and was never headed to the checkered flag aboard the No. 71 KKM machine.
Second through fifth were Jones, Clauson, Coons Jr, and Hines.
The Silver Crown victory wasn’t without drama as Larson had to withstand pressure from Jones on multiple restarts. So many yellow flag laps were run that a few drivers dropped out with empty fuel tanks.
In victory lane Larson quipped, “I wish I had had a modified ride so I could have matched Hewitt’s feat,”
That Saturday night was, as Larson describes it, “when my career kind of exploded.”
This story appeared in the August 16, 2023 edition of the SPEED SPORT Insider.