Young Kyle Larson making name in racing circles

Drive for Diversity program produces first NASCAR champion

jutter@charlotteobserver.comDecember 7, 2012 

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CONCORD, NC - DECEMBER 04: Kyle Larson poses for a NASCAR Touring Champions portrait at Charlotte Motor Speedway on December 4, 2012 in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images for NASCAR)

STREETER LECKA — Getty

  • 2012 NASCAR champions Sprint Cup: Brad Keselowski Nationwide: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Truck: James Buescher K&N Pro Series East: Kyle Larson K&N Pro Series West: Dylan Kwasniewski Whelen Modified: Doug Colby Whelen Southern Modified: George Brunnhoelzl III Canadian Tire: D.J. Kennington Mexico: Jorge Goeters Euro-Racecar: Ander Vilarino Whelen All-American: Lee Pulliam

NASCAR isn’t done celebrating.

While its three national series champions all have been honored, NASCAR will have awards shows this weekend in Charlotte for its weekly and touring series.

The Whelen All-American Series Awards will be Friday night with Night of Champions Touring Awards on Saturday night, both at the Charlotte Convention Center.

While most race fans are very familiar with Brad Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and James Buescher – the respective champions of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Truck series – this weekend’s honorees likely are far less so.

They are no less talented.

One of most successful drivers to be recognized this weekend also will be one of the youngest – 20-year-old Kyle Larson, who won the K&N Pro Series East championship as a rookie.

Larson earned a pair of wins and finished with 12 top-10 results in 14 starts. He also ran four races in the Truck series and finished 10th, sixth, second and was involved in a wreck in the season finale at Homestead, Fla.

Oh, one other thing, the native of Elk Grove, Calif., had not driven a stock car before this season.

Not a one.

“This is my first year in stock cars, so I’ve learned a lot,” said Larson, who has a driver development contract with Chip Ganassi Racing.

“I’ve really learned how to race side-by-side with guys for a few laps before you can actually get by them because with the sprint car, you just blow right past them and don’t waste any time passing them.

“I’ve really learned patience, I think, this year. I don’t think I’m the best at saving tires at all, but I think I’ve gotten a lot better as a driver at saving tires this year.”

Larson has done a lot of learning, but it is not surprising because he has done a lot of racing within a short period of time.

His Japanese-American ancestry opened the door to participating in NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program and Rev Racing – the team for which Larson drove in the K&N series this season. His championship is the first for the organization and Drive for Diversity program.

It was success in open-wheel racing which helped bring the spotlight on the up-and-comer.

During 2011, Larson captured 22 feature victories, including wins in the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series, all three U.S. Auto Club national divisions, and in the American Sprint Car Series.

He garnered national attention for his talent, not just from motorsports media but also from some of racing’s most successful drivers, including Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon.

“It’s definitely cool to have Jeff and Tony talk about me in interviews and stuff like that. It means a lot to me,” he said. “It’s cool that they pay attention like they do.”

Where will Larson be when the 2013 season gets underway?

He doesn’t know … yet.

“I don’t really have anything set up for next year yet. I know these guys at Ganassi Racing are working on some different things for me and hopefully will have an answer here shortly,” he said.

“Hopefully I’ll be racing anything, whether it’s moving up into Trucks or Nationwide and hopefully I’ll still be able to race sprint cars and midgets. As long as I’m racing, I’ll be having fun.”

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