For most of the past 24 years, I have hunted races and racers from across the country while covering local auto races not only for the Kokomo Tribune but for other racing publications as well.

During this time, I was fortunate enough to witness some of the best pilots in their prime as well as some newcomers who people were assured they were going to get bigger and better as their careers progressed. pilot progressed.

One of those pilots is California star Kyle Larson.

My earliest memory of the young driver goes back years when I held the announcer tower with Rob Goodman at Kokomo Speedway. That night was Larson’s first night at Kokomo aboard Jeff Walker’s ever-powerful No.11. The previous year or two, Shane Cottle had piloted the ride before Walker repeatedly replaced the Kokomo champion with this young West Coast kid. He arrived with high expectations but, if memory serves, I remember he hurtling the right back on hot laps in one of his first laps.

The next thing I remember was seeing the beautiful blue Jeff’s Jam-it-In Storage / Murray’s Body Shop hanging in the fence as I entered turn four. This is not the first impression one would expect from a driver who must now be considered one of the best of all time.

As his experience grew, Larson began to spread his wings and compete full time in the three major divisions of the USAC, the Silver Crown, Midget and Sprint Car divisions. Although he was successful, if there was no sanctioned event on the schedule, Larson would go to the extreme to be present on the local track when the green flag was waved.

Even when Larson started to put his foot in the waters of NASCAR and take a NASCAR Truck Series lap, Larson still went out of his way to get back to Kokomo on race night.

One night in Kokomo after Larson competed at Michigan International Speedway in the Truck Series earlier this weekend, he was sitting on a right rear tire talking about his racing career and where he is heading. was leading. Around this time, he was also starting to delve into winged sprint car racing and it looked like he was approaching a crossroads as to what his future would look like.

“To be honest,” Larson said that day, “racing with the trucks gets a little boring once you get used to the speed. It’s like running on the freeway and turning left at every turn. km or so. Honestly my preference is for winged sprint cars because they are so fast.

At this point he had yet to find his way to victory in Kokomo and as he continued to speak that night he was well aware that he was left out of this elusive property along the stretch before the local oval.

“I must have the courage to run up against the wall in [turns] one and two, ”Larson said. “It will probably be the only way for me to win [at Kokomo]. I have to cheer myself up and get up there because that’s where all the fast guys go and where I’ve lost races in the past because I didn’t. ‘

As fate would have it that night, I was doing interviews on the way to victory and Larson, after about a dozen laps, finally guided his No.1 in Abreu Vineyard to the top and simply walked away. was flawless to score his first career victory on the track. As he was driving down the ramp that night, he got out of the car, threw both fists in the air and then, taking off his helmet, he smiled and said, off the microphone, that he didn’t. ‘was not going to lose another by not taking the risk on the high side.

Last year, during the pandemic, when NASCAR events were excluded from real racing, Larson and a myriad of other drivers took part in I-Racing televised computer events. During one of these events, when Larson was unaware he was in front of the camera, he jokingly said a word that should never be said but is too often.

The backlash was immediate and he quickly lost his sponsorship with Target, Cottonelle among others, which cost him his race with Chip Ganassi Racing. NASCAR also suspended him for the rest of the season and his future looked bleak at best with just one stupid mistake.

During his absence from NASCAR, Larson worked on dirt roads across the country with incredible success. He led the All-Star Circuit of Champions in terms of wins despite not competing in all races. Plus, he almost swept all of the USAC Indiana Midget Week events. All in all, over the past 16 months, Larson has won USAC Silver Crown, USAC National Midgets, FloRacing All-Stars Circuit of Champions, Pennsylvania Speed ​​Week, NOS Energy Drink World of Outlaw Sprints and World of Outlaw Late awards. Models.

To say that his conduct is diverse is to say that Michael Jordan was pretty good at basketball.

Car owner Chris Hoyer, a former crew member and sprint car driver, and I were talking about this topic late last summer before Larson was reinstated by NASCAR and joined the Hendricks Motorsports team. . Hoyer and I recalled the great moments we’ve witnessed over the years, but what Larson has done is unprecedented and I seriously doubt I’ll be lucky enough to witness something like this again in my lifetime.

Good things happen to the right people and Larson is definitely that. His only mistake was a major setback, but he did what he needed to do and because of that he was given an opportunity that turned his career from stellar to one of the greatest of them all. the temperature.

Thank goodness for the second chance.

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