Drive for Diversity candidate, 20, making a name for himself in NASCAR
Kyle Larson exchanges text messages with Jeff Gordon, goes to Tony Stewart for racing advice and often spends his off-days go-karting with Kasey Kahne and Jamie McMurray.
If you're not familiar with NASCAR's newest champion, odds are you will be soon. The company the 20-year-old Larson keeps is reflective of the potential he's shown to become one of the sport's can't-miss, next-generation stars.
Larson clinched both the K&N East Pro Series touring championship and the Sunoco Rookie of the Year title in last weekend's season finale to become the first member of NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program to win a championship.
"As long as I'm racing, I'm happy."
-- Kyle Larson
"They always tell me good job when I win and when I see them in person they offer me advice,'' Larson said of his famous friends. "Jeff especially is good about texting and keeping up with me. It's really, really cool.''
This was Larson's first season even sitting in a stock car. And considering that the K&N East Series -- a late-model circuit which races at tracks along the East Coast -- featured the deepest competition in recent memory, it's hard not to have high expectations for the former USAC and World Of Outlaws dirt track standout.
It's an understatement to say it's been a big week. Larson figures he's done a dozen sit-down interviews, television programs and along with Cup championship contender Brad Keselowski was the featured guest on NASCAR's teleconference call with national media.
"I didn't know so many people paid attention to this,'' Larson said. "I've kinda realized how big a deal it is."
Larson, whose mother is Japanese, is grateful for the opportunity he got with NASCAR's Diversity program, but is determined to use it as a launching point, not the end-game.
"I've been lucky enough with the Diversity program that Rev Racing gave me a shot to run,'' Larson said. "They have really good equipment and Randy Goss was my crew chief and he's the guy who brought Greg Biffle up. It was a really good experience.
"I got experience as a driver and with the media. And it's good to be racing with a team that gets a lot of exposure.''
After a friendly karting session with Kahne and a few friends early this week in Charlotte, Larson is now preparing to head to Phoenix International Raceway this weekend for his third Camping World Truck Series start with Turner Motorsports.
He's scored top-10s in two previous Truck Series starts this year -- including a sixth-place run at Atlanta -- and will close out the NASCAR season in a Turner truck at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida.
Not just fast on track, Larson is humble, well-spoken and enthusiastic, traits that have impressed potential sponsors, team owners even potential future competition.
"He's so natural, just looks like he is part of the race car -- he's super smooth and fast,'' said Kahne, who, like the California-native Larson, started his career racing sprint cars and midgets on dirt tracks across the West.
And it hasn't taken long for people to take notice. Larson has already signed a long-term contract with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing as a development driver. And while nothing is firmed up for 2013 yet, he is hopeful to get some Nationwide Series and truck series starts even if he does another year of K&N.
Like his mentors, Kahne, Gordon and Stewart, with whom he shares a racing background and a one-time desire to race IndyCars, Larson has decided that NASCAR is where he ultimately wants to be.
"I like how popular it is,'' Larson explained. "I want to be racing with the best drivers out there and I think the best drivers are in NASCAR. I grew up watching Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon and it would be really cool to get to race door-to-door with those guys each Sunday.''
Until then, Larson's racing calendar is full. He figures he's already run 120 races and is set for some more USAC starts this fall before heading to New Zealand to race midgets and then back to the States for the star-studded Chili Bowl Midget Nationals in Tulsa, Okla.
"As long as I'm racing, I'm happy,'' Larson said with a grin, adding that his immediate goals are pretty simple.
"Keep winning. Keep running out front. Keep them talking about you.''